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Swim Call in the South Atlantic Ocean

The Picton Castle had been motoring for several days through the South Atlantic Ocean- an ocean over which the most deliciously constant trade winds in the world normally blow… An ocean which was calmer than a bathtub unoccupied – a lake frozen by a harsh winter (cepting it’s plenty hot…), a puddle undisturbed by children’s play. The air lacked even a whisper of apparent wind. It seemed that a big low off the coast of Brazil had sucked the wind straight out of the sky. Unusual but true nevertheless. We all believed that the delightful trade winds, although currently elusive, still waited for us on the other side of this region of calm and we buckled down to work as usual.

With all sails furled tightly on their yards the riggers (Chief Mate Mike, Paula, Joh and Robert) recruited extra hands from the watches and completed dozens of projects. Since the weather reports all pointed toward at least a few days of doldrums the riggers called on the crew to tar the rig in its entirety. It is normally impossible to thoroughly tar the rig with all sails set, not impossible, just impossible without getting tar all over the sails, a major crime – for the first few days the tar makes the ratlines sticky and encumbers the sailor climbing aloft to loose sail or nip the bunts or furl. The thirsty rig happily drank the tar we slurped on to it – demanding more and more and looked all the better for it. And, of course, it smells heavenly.

The sailmaking team under Rebecca of Joani, Katelinn and Taia up on the quarterdeck worked on seaming and adding chafe gear to the spanker and new upper topsail. The Bosun (WT) and the Bosun’s Mate (Dan) oversaw many projects including painting the masts and overhauling, priming and painting the rigging screws on the fore shrouds. Carpenters Jan and Niko (and Paul) covered wires in the companionway and the charthouse, made new teak graving pieces for the railings on the quarterdeck and fairleads for the monomoy hoisting rudder. As we motored along Shawn, Fred and Chris took shifts in the engine room. It is pretty hot ‘down there’ but then, it is pretty hot everywhere just now.

In addition to all of the regular ship’s work the crew was also going to school. The Captain and Mates, seeing an interest and an aptitude in many of the already accomplished crew, created an advanced curriculum program for further development in seamanship and ships’ technology skills. During the week classes were held at 10 am, 2 pm and 4 pm in Charthouse and Navigation, Engineering, Deck Maintenance and Rigging and Sailmaking…

On Sunday last, with the sun high in the Southern sky, not a breath of wind stirring the surface of the sea on an otherwise bright pretty day, the Captain made an executive decision. The diesel engine shuddered to a stop. The yards were braced square and the Picton Castle – having come to an almost complete stop – rolled gently from port to starboard. Sweat streaked and giddy with anticipation the crew gathered midships for a muster during which the Captain officially announced a mid-ocean swim call!!

How marvelous! The thought of diving into the cool waters of the South Atlantic Ocean… the thousands of fathoms of unknown just below our wriggling toes… the inflatable pool toys… the shrieks and giggles! Some rules first though. The Captain explained that there were some rules that accompanied swimming in the largest swimming pool ever. There were to be three lookouts posted at all times – one on the bridge watchimg the swimmers, one on the mainmast and one on the foremast looking about for any fins in the water approaching; we were to stay on the starboard side of the ship amidships and in plain view at all times, never swim under the ship; we were to look out for one another and for anything amiss. With a life ring in the water trailing off the stern, the scrambler net secured -in case of rapid exit being called for – in addition to the two boarding ladders starboard, the lookouts in position and the swing rope rigged up – the pool was open! And, of, by the way, don’t use the starboard heads for the duration of the swim call! Seems obvious, but…

Diving into the azure, clear water of the South Atlantic Ocean was every bit as satisfying as we had hoped it would be. We spent the better part of the next hour washing away the heat, lounging on the plethora of available pool toys, snorkelling (though to what limits could we see?) and making daring flips and jumps from the rope swing off the fore yardarm.

Once we had satisfied our desire for a refreshing dip and our appendages were sufficiently pruned we clambered over the side to prepare for a Sunday BBQ. Smells of springbok and mahi mahi mingled with the heat of the day –to which we were now impervious – and ice cold refreshments appeared on the hatch.

As the sun retreated for the night the crew gathered on the well-deck for a Gypsy Band jam session. The music lasted well into the evening – as did the sound of satisfied laughter… imagine that, a swimming pool 11,000 feet deep!

crew and their pool toys in the South Atlantic
relaxing on an air mattress in the South Atlantic
rope swinging in the South Atlantic
swim call in the middle of the ocean

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