Captain's Log

Archive for June, 2011

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North Bound from Bermuda in the Picton Castle

At dawn this day comes in overcast spitting light rain in a fresh southerly breeze hauling the Picton Castle and her crew north. Yards are squared and all sail is set and drawing to the royals. The Chief Cook asks for the main topmast staysail to come in as sometimes wind spilling off it spoils the draft from his stove and slows down breakfast – can’t have that. At 80 miles north of Bermuda it is still quite warm. This will change. The 4-8 watch sets to a vigorous deck scrub as they have done many times before. The Mate trims a sail here a sheet there but otherwise we roll on with the winds and sea as long as they remain favourable. Looks like we are going to sail right through something of a low but doesn’t look bad. Just a little wind and then maybe going calm for a spell.

The gang had a good time in Bermuda and in the BVI as well with all the wooden boat regatta activity there a couple weeks ago – logs will be posted soon on that subject – but in the meantime we are sailing for Lunenburg, and the sea bound coast of Nova Scotia where this voyage began 14 months and 30,000 miles ago. In a straight line it is 720 miles from Bermuda to Lunenburg, surprisingly close really and with so much in common, yet a world away in climate. No palm trees in Lunenburg and no Christmas trees in Bermuda. We still have flying fish skitting about the ship. That’s comforting to a “flying fish sailor.”

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Captured by the Character of Carriacou

Sailing from St. Barths on May 3, 2011, the Picton Castle made her way to the south, bound for the Grenadines in the Windward Isles of the Eastern Caribbean. On the morning of May 7th, she dropped anchor in the harbour outside the peaceful port town of Hillsborough, Carriacou. While a part of the nation of Grenada, Carriacou in unique unto itself.

We had arrived in Carriacou at the very end of the Caribbean tourist season and found ourselves among just a handful of visitors to the island. As continued to be a regular occurrence, the Captain was greeted by several friends as we arrived by skiff to clear in with Customs and Immigration. During his days on the Romance the Captain was then just a young deckhand newly establishing himself as a mariner and gaining skills as he could. It was the talented shipwrights he met in these islands – in particular Carriacou and mainland Grenada – that taught him the finer skills of wooden ship-building and repair.

Dunstin Bristol met us by the dock in his taxi-bus, ‘My Apology’. During the next few days, as he took the crew on tours around the island, we learned that he had known the Captain since they were both teenagers. It was his father, Mathias, who had taught the Captain how to caulk and shape timbers and planks. The Captain used to stay with Dunstin’s family while in Carriacou, sleeping on the floor next to them and sharing their world as few foreigners do. Dunstin told me the story of how his mother, wishing the Captain to feel at home, made him a very western influenced meal one night. The Captain ate the meal politely, but afterward expressed his desire to eat what the rest of the family was eating, the local fare; fish, chicken, peas & rice. It was one of many insights into the man we call Captain and only reinforced why we choose to travel the world on the Picton Castle with him.

As I was sitting by the beach one day a man approached me. He was also from North America and we got to talking, as you do, when someone says hello. After talking to me for a while, he asked what I thought of the island. I told him that I loved it, that I felt so at home here, that I did not yet wish to leave, and that I was already planning my next visit – perhaps during the Carriacou Regatta next summer. He looked surprised by my answer and he told me that Carriacou was just not for him and that other (touristy, westernized, ‘developed’) islands were more his style. And in that moment a part of me wished that this man could experience what we were experiencing. That is, the opportunity to sail around the world; stay in home-stays; meet, live, sail, dance and work with the locals. It opens your eyes as much as it opens your heart to travel in this way… but each to his own.

For it is the people, even more than the breathtaking interior, stunning white sand beaches and healthy untouched reefs, that makes this island truly remarkable. On the first day ten of us piled into ‘My Apology’ and went for a cross island tour with Dunstin. Speeding across the hilly island, we got our first glimpse of its beauty. Largely untouched by building development – pastures yield to verdant forest which cede to community gardens which surrender to sloping cliffs overlooking stunning bays and natural harbours. The blossoming fertility of the island, carried by a soft breeze, entered through the windows and mesmerized us. As we barrelled down the road, Dunstin honked his horn in greeting as we passed by his friends, family and neighbours, and in warning at the wandering goats or chickens that frequented the middle of the roads.

Stopping at Paradise Bay we met with Joy and Joseph, who own a little restaurant right on the beach called the Hardwood Bar at Paradise Beach. On display at the bar, was a picture of the Picton Castle, given to them on a previous visit. We happily played in the water and picked up a few souvenirs from Fidel Productions – a little seaside shop run by Sandra and Luca. (Luca and his brother Kyle both sailed on the Picton Castle in the past and their father, Dave Westergard, is building two schooners at the Lunenburg Dory Shop). Then we continued on our tour.

During the late afternoon we ended up in Windward, where the Carriacou sloops are built, a cool breezy community on the windward side of the island. Stopping at one of the boat yards we walked among the frame that had built at least one Carriacou sloop we knew, Alexis’s Genesis, but undoubtedly many others too. Moored out in the harbour we could see the Maghita, a 40 footer with no engine used for fishing and owned by a lovely man named Uncle C, and New Moon, owned by Dave Goldhill, which some of us had sailed in the West Indies Regatta. As the sun swooped toward the horizon, we made our way to Bernard and Laura’s rum shop (editors note: a “rum shop” is just a name for an informal plywood built outdoor pub; rum consumption is not required), where we reunited with some familiar faces. Chinton and Carl (Windward boat builders) were both in St. Barths and sailed with us during the Regatta, and Dave. We also met Uncle C, Bernard and Laura and their children and grandchildren and many other local boat builders. As we sat on wooden benches overlooking the water it was hard not to feel completely content. These men and women worked incredibly hard, and possibly as a consequence, also knew how to relax. With the exception of the rowdy games of dominos on the front stoop, almost a contact sport hereabouts, everybody just chilled out. There was some conversation, but there was also a lot of comfortable silence.

The next few days carried on in a similar fashion. Dunstin continued to take the crew on tours of the island, several of the crew hiked into the hills, many hung out at Paradise beach and the crew inevitably frequented Laura and Bernard’s rum shack. On the second night a fish fry was organized. When the entire off-watch crew showed up for the fish fry Laura was a little overwhelmed by the numbers. Paula and I volunteered to help in the kitchen and spent the next hour or two frying French fries and fish and learning some Carriacou cooking techniques.

On our last night in Carriacou Dave invited the crew to his place for a celebratory gathering. Overlooking Windward, high on a cliff, Dave’s place was quite spectacular and a fantastic spot to spend our last evening. He cooked up a gigantic cauldron of fish soup and as we ate we mingled with our new-found friends, making promises to come back to Carriacou. The genuine warmth of everyone we met was something we will not soon forget. If you ever want to stay in sweet Caribbean cottages overlooking the sea in the West Indies, you must check out: www.carriacoucottages.com.

As we sailed out of Hillsborough on the morning of May 10th, we took a few guests with us. Uncle C and his son; Dave and his daughter and a guest of Dave’s who goes by the name of ‘Button’ sailed with us to Mainland Grenada.

Until the next time Carriacou!!! Thank you!!!

(PS – In the photo labelled “Brad and an abandoned boat” that is the 50 foot gaff rigged sloop Vaeta which used to carry the mail back and forth from Grenada. Capt Horace Martineau and our Captain sailed in her many times.)

A tour with Dunstin
Bernard and Laura s rum shack
Brad and an abandoned boat
Paul and Luca
The Picton Castle at anchor
Windward boatyard

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The West Indies Regatta

The Captain, absolutely adamant that everyone get a chance to sail on these smaller vessels during the West Indies Regatta (a regatta founded partly in order to encourage the revival of West Indian boat building and sailing for islanders), stood watch aboard the Picton Castle in St. Barths with a skeleton crew during the race days. The ship was stern-to the quay with two anchors out, pretty secure she was, and the rest of the of the on-watch crew, after washing down and cleaning below as we do every day, were cut loose to find a sloop to sail on. With nine handsome Carriacou sloops (Tradition, Pipe Dream, Good Expectation, Genesis, Summer Cloud, New Moon, Ocean Nomad and Sweetheart) and schooner Alexander Hamilton to choose from, everyone got on their boat of choice.

While absolutely impossible to capture everyone’s emotional experience during the weekend, one could easily hypothesize that all felt feelings of elation, exhilaration, pleasure, stimulation and contentment. The Captain and mates are the first to agree that small boat sailing makes a sailor. This is why they have encouraged as much small boat handling as possible during our circumnavigation. At every port where it has been feasible we have lowered the longboat and Sea Never Dry into the water and sent the crew on sailing excursions and rowing expeditions. This weekend was no exception. Smaller boats, like the Carriacou sloops, allow one to see the basic principles we utilize on the Picton Castle more easily. You are closer to the wind, closer to the water, closer to the sails. You can observe the manoeuvres in their entirety, simply because of your vantage point – in the middle of it all. Every boat has its individual quirks, its strengths and weaknesses, and after a day of sailing, if you observe carefully, she will show you where she feels most comfortable. On smaller craft you also see the consequences of your actions very quickly. This is an excellent way to both enrich your large ship experience but measure it and see how far we all have come, often without realizing it.

The first half of the race followed a course around several buoys and then out around the curve of St. Barths to a protected cove on the north end of the island. On the second day the wind was blowing a good 20 knots and once out of the harbour the sloops flew across the waves. From my vantage point on the Pipe Dream, the other sloops dipped in an out of the crests of the waves, their sails filled with the windy thrill of the race. Some raced with the schooners far out, away from the lee of the island and hit their sweet spot – the vessels responding to what they loved. New Moon, on the other hand, was a slippery sloop and she could easily hug the shoreline, carried by the current, without losing the wind. That day I sailed with Paul, Meredith, Dan Eden, Dan, Brad, Pania and Ali. As we hugged the windward rail, the leeward railing seemed to surf the waves. In particular she seemed to perform well on this port tack and sliced through the water, bound for the mid-race finish line.

As we approached the cove we noticed that several sloops were already waiting for us. In the spirit of camaraderie, the crews had rafted the vessels together and were busy swimming, eating lunch and enjoying the sunshine. We sailed up to the boats, dropped the anchor and took in sail. Before we could raft up to the others we found ourselves drifting in the strong current, our anchor dragging in the soft sand, and soon we were well out in the harbour, without sail and traveling fast. Several boats tried to pull us, to no avail; one of the crew on the Sweetheart jumped overboard with a line, determined to aid us. Finally, after several failed attempts at rescue, we decided to set sail once more, we pulled a risky move. We hoisted the main sail and the jib in the middle of the busy harbour and tacked our way past million dollar yachts – I am sure, much to their chagrin and horror – and dropped anchor next to the other sloops once again, taking in all sail only at the last minute. Paul was told that he sailed like he was born in Carriacou itself – a better compliment you could not wish for as a sailor!

After an hour of two of relaxing it was time to race for the ultimate finish line. Sailing out of the cove we saw whales breaching 50 feet off our starboard quarter – we paused long enough to watch their graceful movements before continuing the process of tacking our way to the starting line. This race took us out around a large rock and back toward the port of Gustavia, from whence we had come hours earlier. This time, the sloops pulled out all of the stops. Several flew colourful spinnakers to take advantage of the abundant wind and the Alexander Hamilton flew a water sail. Having no extra canvas the Pipe Dream nonetheless sailed happily and hurriedly along –enjoying the race, it seemed, as much as we were.

As we rounded the finish line, we were told that we had come in 4th place! Woohoo! And yet, we could have come in last and still felt the same sense of accomplishment. This was the best possible type of race. A race sailed by people who love boats and love to sail them. A race where competition is all in good fun and everyone is proud of their standing, whether it is first or last. Everyone was just happy to be out there sailing, feeling the wind and salt spray and the warmth of the sun.

We hosted a party onboard the Picton Castle during our second night in St. Barths. Thankful for being invited to participate in the West Indies Regatta and thankful to all of the crews of the Carriacou sloops who happily invited us to share this experience with them, we wished in some way to show our appreciation. We set up dinner on the rails and some local musicians offered their voices and instruments for the evening’s entertainment. As they sang raucously engaging French sea shanties, sailors mingled with sailors long into the night.

On the last evening of the regatta, Alexis Andrews and the other official organizers of the event held an awards ceremony. After the awards ceremony the Picton Castle crew performed a special number we had been practicing for weeks. The women, taught by Taia, performed a South Pacific dance routine and then the men, with their leader Pania proudly watching, performed a Maori war chant. It was incredibly special to perform in St. Barths, so far away from the beaches where we had first learned Polynesian dances, in front of our newfound sailor friends, literally on the other side of the world.

After a delicate manoeuvre to retrieve both anchors in this tiny port (while keeping perfectly still so as not to wipe out the other vessels there or pull their anchors up with ours!), we sailed from St. Barths. We knew that we had fallen madly in love with Carriacou sloops. So, the Captain changed the voyage plan just slightly. Instead of clearing into mainland Grenada, we would sail for Carriacou first. We would sail to the land where the sloops were built and meet or reunite with the shipwrights who had built them. It was an appropriate next step, for it made our departure from St. Barths a joyous and not wrenching affair.

All of the sloops rafted together for a mid-sail party
Dan is all smiles out there!
Katelinn joins the musicians
New Moon gets ahead
The crew of the Pipe Dream
Tradition sails ahead~0

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