Friday, June 17th, 2011
By 2nd Mate Paul Bracken
The ship and her crew are homeward bound. We are just two days out from Bermuda, logging six and a half knots under full square sail as we plough our way north. For now the wind is a fresh westerly that was kicked up from a nearby low and my watch has the deck as the sun slips away and we run into the night. As we make our way through the North Atlantic we can’t help but reflect back on those generations of sailors who passed through these waters in days gone by. I think of the Captain voyaging for his fifth time around the world on this ship, and of how many times the Picton Castle has made this 700 nm passage north cross the Gulf Stream and into the northern latitudes.
Our last port of call in the Caribbean was Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands, which for the Picton Castle is a place rich in our traditions. This year, we had the honour of hosting Captain Moreland’s mentor, Captain Arthur Kimberly (also know as “Skipper”) along with some of the old crew of the Brigantine Romance on board for a few days. Skipper was the Captain and owner of the Romance and he sailed her from 1966 to 1989 with his wife Gloria. They sailed around the world twice, once with our Captain Dan Moreland as Mate. They also spent many months in the South Pacific and around the Caribbean. The Romance was not Skipper’s first ship for he left home at the age of 17, just after finishing high school, and signed onboard a 2500 ton Swedish four-masted barque with just 13 crew! (He later told me they might have been a little short handed!) He spent his life sailing the seas, and Romance was to be his last command, but not his last sail or ship.
Skipper spent one afternoon aboard with my watch spending time with his old crew, and meeting some of the Picton Castle crew. Within moments of him stepping aboard you could tell that this was where he belonged. As an ancient mariner he paced the decks all day inspecting the rigging, pulling on lines, giving skilful advice to the sail makers, and spinning yarns of his days at sea. Lunch came and the watch gathered round as Skipper went through picture books of the “Last Age of Sail” with us, having been there is his early days at sea. Hearing his first hand account of what it was like to sail in these ships, known only to us as they appear in photographs or tied to docks of maritime museums was truly something special. Sailing in Picton Castle comes pretty close I figure.
The following day the Picton Castle went for a day sail. Pretty unusual for us. It is not a simple feat to take a 600 ton Barque, sail off the hook, and tack up a four mile wide channel just to sail back onto the hook in two hours. This time, however, as hands gathered round the windless there was a different feeling in the air as if the crew felt a need to impress not just Skipper, but our Captain as well. Knowing full well he was under Skipper’s watchful eyes (his captain of four years) things could not have gone better! We set full sail smoothly and smartly as a crew who has sailed together for almost 30,000 nautical miles should. We tacked up the channel, wore ship bringing her back to the same spot we left from two hours earlier. I don’t know when Skipper might sail again in something with yards but I am glad to be able to say that I sailed with Capt Kimberly once in a proper sailing ship.