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A Bird’s Eye View

By Paula Washington

Looking to my left all that can be seen is broad blue ocean, the occasional flying fish breaks the surface as it glides with wing-like fins away from predators lurking below the waves. Out to my right cumulus clouds are beginning to form into a heavy line obscuring the horizon. Looking aft the water swoops and swirls as we make five knots through it. Our stern trailing five fishing lines is pulled through the swell by 23 sails. Every inch of canvas we can have up is set and I am sitting on the t’gallant yard at the outer end splicing wire rope which will soon become our newest piece of safety gear. We have been busy all week making these back ropes, which run along the yards at ones lower back providing both a place to clip into and an extra support behind a sailor when up on a yard. My 80 foot high vantage point high aloft on a t’gallant yard of the Barque Picton Castle gives me a unique look at the ship below and our way of life onboard.

Occasional glimpses between my work show people at the stern busy resetting the fishing lines after hauling in two large mahi mahi. Fishing has proven to be more than a just a hobby, on this voyage we have caught enough fish to feed the entire crew for two or three dinners each week. Just above the fishermen, on the quarterdeck the sailmakers are busy seaming two new sails. We make all of our own sails onboard by hand out of cotton canvas. These traditional methods have been handed down between generations since the beginning of the Age of Sail. Looking down at the t’gallant right below me I can see the workmanship and skill that goes into making each of these sails. Beside the sailmakers, three people stand posed next to the rail wielding sextants. Each practicing celestial navigation by taking a running fix of the sun. Looking forward the green cargo hatch cover is full of students taking a ten o’clock class on engines and electricity taught by our talented engineer. Others are around doing laundry and chatting off watch.

Glancing forward of the galley house the busiest place on the ship becomes visible every time the main topmast stays’l loses its wind and flogs to starboard. Here Donald, our cook, takes a mid morning break from the heat of the diesel stove that runs his galley. Next to him a team of three carpenters cut, plane and sand wood for various projects. New deck boards are being made to replace old ones and trim is being added in the after living quarters. A constant cloud of sawdust engulfs this part of the well deck much to the annoyance of the Bosun who is trying to get the ship varnished and freshly painted for our arrival in the Caribbean. He is pacing around the decks checking and rechecking everyone’s work, always finding places people missed painting and new places to rust bust. The entire 8-12 watch other than a helmsman and a lookout are busy working on the tasks he has assigned. The well-deck is also home to the rigging team, which I am a part of these days. The back ropes we are working on are stretched out in a crisscrossing fashion making the port side look like some sort of jungle gym, making people climb under, over and around the work and workers in order to pass through.

For me this view of the ship shows what we do on board so well. From here I can see all the work, skill and learning that goes into this program and vessel. One of my favourite things about sailing tall ships is the self sufficient feeling you get when you know that everything on board has been built by your hands or the hands of those who worked on board before you. Self sufficiency is so rarely found these days but on board we have all the tools and knowledge to keep this ship and lifestyle going.

fore t gallant set
Joh working aloft on the main
looking down from the mainmast at the cargo hatch and galley house roof
looking down from the mainmast at the mizzenmast and quarterdeck
looking down from the mainmast at the quarterdeck and monomoy in her davits
Paula working aloft on the main

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