Captain's Log

Archive for July, 2012

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Port Hawkesbury to Pugwash

27 July 2012

By Kate “Bob” Addison

9pm on Friday evening, and Picton Castle is at 45º54.0’N, 062º40.8’W in the Northumberland Strait between Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. We’ve been at or near the same position for a couple of hours now, our 1 knot speed of advance entirely due to the current and nothing at all to do with the sails which, though set, are about as much use at this moment as the proverbial chocolate teapot. There isn’t any wind. The forecast that said the winds would go light was right. It’s barely a Force 1 out there. The sea is flat, gently rippled, smooth and glassy, reflecting the sunset of pink and blue. The sails are also flat, hanging from their yards, they look lifeless and strangely statuesque. Something about the sails reminds me of a rather dignified old man – you can tell that they used to be full of energy, full of life, but now they are calm and still.

Now all is quiet aboard the ship. The 8-12 watch has the deck, lead by Chief Mate Sam Sikkema. They are going about their business quietly so as not to wake the off watch, or disturb the peace of this beautiful evening. Hands are aloft stowing the royals for the night. A few of the off-watch are on deck too, lying on the hawsers up on the galley house with a book, or snoozing on the cargo hatch. There’s some whispered rope splicing practicing happening on the hatch too. Some of our trainee crew are just sailing with us for two weeks so they’re keen to make every moment count and learn as much as they can from our ship and her crew. It’s great to sail with people who are so keen to learn and get stuck in with what we do. Wonderful to sail with people who love our way of life.

It’s very quiet. Usually when we are underway there are the sounds of the ship to muffle the sounds of the crew walking, talking and working the ship. There’s usually the sound of the ocean slapping against the hull as it cuts through the water, and the whistle of the wind as it blows through the rig. Usually there’s the creak of timbers and lines and canvas. All pleasant gentle noises that help lull a tired sailor to sleep. But tonight it’s more like the silence of being at anchor. No water moving past the hull right now; we’re drifting wherever the water is going. No wind making the rigging sing. No ocean swell here in Northumberland Strait. The quiet makes my fingers tapping at the keyboard sound obnoxiously loud.

Port Hawkesbury, Cape Breton Island, and on the Strait of Canso, was another successful event for us, and a very pleasant time. Peacemaker, Bounty, Gazela, Sorca, Appledore IV and Appledore V all alongside the same big pier as Picton Castle. Theodore Tugboat was just on the other side of the marina. He’s pretty awesome, that little tug with his bright red base-ball cap and big fixed smile. We were wondering if his expression becomes less cheerful when he’s battling into a headwind or big seas, or towing a heavy ship? Either way Theodore was a big hit with the youngsters in Port Hawkesbury. They like the sailing ships and all, but a tug boat with a smiley face and a red hat? Whoah! That’s even cooler than the pony rides, and foam lobsters on sticks, which were also trending amongst the smaller residents of Nova Scotia. There was a big tent set up at the end of the dock right in front of the yacht club, and here there was music and dancing and delicious foods. All together a very lovely time for all. The Picton Castle was well remembered from previous visits and called the event’s “Signature Ship”.

Tomorrow we’ll arrive into Pugwash for our last summer festival. It’s only about 40 miles from here where we drift, so we’ll start steaming at some point tonight to pick up our pilot early in the morning. But for now we’re just enjoying the peace of a sunset on the ocean.

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Gloucester

By Kate “Bob” Addison

16 July 2012

Monday morning and it’s cool and foggy here on the Picton Castle as we sail up from Gloucester, Massechusetts towards Nova Scotia at the beginning of the end of our summer of Tall Ships. The fog’s been with us almost since we left and it’s chilly enough to need a sweater. I’m even contemplating shoes…

We spent a long weekend at Gloucester, Massachusetts the ship moored up parallel to the shore across the head of three wharfs like they were dolphin posts. We were the guests of the Gloucester Marine Railway in Gloucester. We are told it’s the oldest continuously working marine railway in the USA and still hauling schooners and all sorts of other boats out of the water for maintenance today. A pretty old fishing vessel, the 1925 Phyllis A was on one of the slips having her hull re-caulked. The bright orange stripes of the red-lead putty along her hull looked like a 1970s style statement.

A stop in Gloucester wasn’t on our original plan but it worked well with our schedule and it really is a lovely place. I think everyone enjoyed having a couple of days ashore to trawl the book stores and junk shops for treasure, and look at the pretty Gloucester schooners. Two of these fine vessels, the Ardelle and the Thomas E Lannon sailed out to meet us, Canadian flags flying from mainmast spreaders to make us feel welcome.

Gloucester was famous as a fishing port once, their schooners fast and seaworthy. Gloucestermen they called them, the ships and the men. Tough, brave and salty. The pretty wooden row boats: Gloucester dories are famous too, and they rather bring to mind the Lunenburg dory. There’s a general sense of kinship with Lunenburg; both pretty fishing ports once bustling with ship building, engineering and all of the other industry supporting the fishing and supported by it. Now, more and more, both towns are selling their charms to the hospitality and tourism industries and art and crafts are flourishing. The nautical jobs are still there, but a niche now, perhaps a little nostalgia mixed with the commercial imperative. But sister towns nevertheless.

Ten of our crew, always up for a challenge, took on the Cape Ann rowing race, thae Blackburn Challenge it is called for a Newfoundland fisherman who rowed ashore in his dory lost from his schooner, hands frozen about his oars. While we were in Gloucester, around the cape they went, more than 6 hours of rowing over a course some 20 miles long. We heard incredulous talk from the locals that anyone would be mad enough to take such a big heavy boat around the course, but the gang did good, rowed all the way without asking for a tow and still smiling by the end. Mate Sean Bercaw raced in a dory and won first place in his section, receiving a big shiny medal and bragging rights for his efforts. But I’ll leave our rowers to tell their own story – tales of courage and endurance coming soon!

Whale ship style, we launched the monomoy at sea as we sailed in with Picton Castle the day before: hove to so the ship stopped in the water for a minute, launched the boat, and then braced the yards round so we continued on our way. Under Siri’s command the boat sailed in behind us and came back alongside Picton Castle once the ship was snug at anchor for the night before we came into dock in the morning.

We had a gang from the Mystic Seaport Museum aboard Picton Castle for a few days to come sailing with us. Mystic is a fabulous place and one of their projects is the restoration of the last of the wooden New England whale ships, the Charles W. Morgan. The plan is to sail her once she’s all fixed up so we figured if they’re going to sail a whale ship it would be good practice for them to launch a whale boat at sea just like the New England whalers of the 1800s did.

There have been a few whales around for the past few days too, but they were safe enough from our gang in the monomoy. Mineral oil has replaced just about everything the whale oil was used for and whalebone corsets are thankfully no longer in fashion. All we wanted from the whales was the thrill of the sight of them and some photographs for the album.

And now we’re sailing sedately along with most everything set, there’s a quiet calm about the place as the crew take their turn at the helm, lookout or doing ship’s work, the watch below snoozing or reading. We have double lookouts posted because of the fog, one at each rail on the forecastle head and all around is wintery white.

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Halifax

By Kate “Bob” Addison

Tuesday morning finds Picton Castle sailing northeast along the coast from Halifax which was the hub of the Nova Scotia tall ship festivals. From there the fleet has divided into two to visit the Nova Scotia outports. Picton Castle along with Bounty, Gazela, Peacemaker and company are heading north towards Port Hawkesbury and Pugwash for the last two festivals of our summer, while the other half of the fleet including Pride of Baltimore II, Lynx and Amistad are heading South for the festivals at Shelburne and Lunenburg.

There were sad goodbyes between the crews of the ships as the fleet starts to break up. Friendships have been building in every port, and it’s sad that we won’t all meet up again at the next festival. We’ll miss the rest of the fleet next year too when we’ll be in the South Pacific hopping between islands and they will be in the Great Lakes hopping between festivals. It was just like it’s always been with sailors waving goodbye to friends and sweethearts as they sail off to sea, the only difference now is that now the girl is as likely to be the sailor, and the one standing on the dock a boy.

It’s been a spectacular summer at all the ports and Halifax was a great event. Conspicuously well organised with brilliant work from our Liason Officers who, we are pretty sure, would have fetched us the moon on a stick if we’d asked for it.

There were the usual events: open ship with visitors touring the decks and taking each others’ photos at the wheel, a crew party at the Citadel (a big stine fort from the days of Halifax being the Gibraltar of the North) on top of the hill above the city, a blessing of the fleet with sailors singing ‘for those in peril on the sea’, enthusiastic more than tuneful. There were games for the younger crew and a crew parade with our gang looking great in tropical pareaus and goofy finery. They carried musics for their dancing, a huge Cook Islands flag from Avatiu in Rarotonga and the national flags of some of our motley crew (Danish, Grenadian, American, Canadian, Pitcairn Island, Norwegian, German, South African). Right now our crew includes citizens of eight nations and almost all were represented in the parade.

For evening activities there was plenty of live music and dancing, delicious seafood, outdoor films showing on the dock right next to our ship. I found a café open late that made me Turkish coffee and a spectacular chocolate brownie sundae. The diet starts tomorrow.

Right now we’re enjoying a fabulous sail up the coast. Storming along at seven knots with a nice fresh Force 5 on the starboard quarter, square sails are set to the topgallants and the sails all full of wind and looking fine. Headsail sheets are quivering gently under the pressure of the sails and the ship is racing along with an easy movement as she skips along over the small seas. The North Atlantic, so often grey and unfriendly, is a lovely shade of turquoise and scattered here and there with white foam. George is snoozing in the office, Donald is making lunch. The sun is shining making everything sparkle and all is well aboard Picton Castle.

Crew Parade 1
crew parade 2
Liason Officer J C and our fabulous Maggie
Pride of Baltimore II emerges from George Island

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Newport

By Kate “Bob” Addison

I’m sitting here amidships on the cargo hatch of the Barque Picton Castle under the awning, running the ship’s shop and using the moments of calm in between sales to type away on my laptop. It is a beautiful breezy summer day with SW winds blowing in off the sea. The hatch all around me is adorned with the hats and shirts that make up our shop, sailor tools and treasure from the South Seas too. Just one Bali sea chest left and it makes an excellent desk. We have some beautiful woven fabrics as well. The decks around the hatch are busy with dozens of visitors; they are milling about smartly, negotiating the ladders up and down to the quarterdeck and stopping here and there to ask questions of the crew or to coo over the cat. All types of people aboard: families with wide eyed children, young couples dressed up like they’re on a date, retired folks and the festival crowd in shorts and straw hats. The queues of people go way back along the dock, being directed and entertained by a delightful gang of volunteers. All signs indicate that we’re at another Tall Ships festival.

Tall Ships indeed. We’re alongside in Newport, Rhode Island for the Ocean State Tall Ships festival, the fourth big public event for the Picton Castle this summer. The fleet of Bounty, Pride of Baltimore II, Lynx, Summerwind, Gazela, Unicorn, Peacemaker, Mystic Whaler, Providence and Sir Martin II are spread out along the long, bustling waterfront, colourful bunting flying from their rigging, their masts standing out from the sea of yachts.

Newport is very, very yachty. It has ten yacht clubs based here in the harbour and the moorings out in the harbour and piers all along the town are chock-a-block with varnished wood beauties and sleek carbon fiber sailing machines. Just the shiny white gel coats on some of these boats look like they would cost as much as a small house. Ashore there are plenty of restaurants and bars catering for the shore-side yachtsman, and heaps of shops selling stuff for your yacht, yachting clothes and things for your house with pictures of yachts on them. These things are generally labeled ‘objet’ and priced accordingly.

Newport is justifiably proud of its sailing heritage, and local and international regattas are regular events here. The America’s Cup boats were in town last week: a fleet of 45-foot catamarans with 70-foot fixed wing sails. The boats (if you can even call them ‘boats’?) look more like windsurfers and fly as much as they sail. They were based over by Fort Adams on the other side of the harbour from Newport; their crews using cranes to take the masts and sails out of the boats for shipping when we arrived. Very different to the 145 foot mono-hull J-boats built for the America’s Cup in the 1930s, and 65ish 12 metre class sloops, several of which are still moored up in Newport Harbour. A world away from our lovely sea-going square-rigged sailing ship.

Picton Castle is docked in a really tight berth here at Bannister’s Wharf: right in the middle of town, with the famous Black Pearl and Clarke Cooke House both offering hospitality and refreshment less than a minute’s walk away, and our bowsprit reaching meters from an excellent coffee shop. It was tight enough to get in, but the Captain has had some experience at parking this barque and we got in sweet enough. Bannister’s Wharf has been a perfect place for our ship at this event and they have been very good to us. It helps being so close to all of these fantastic restaurants, cafes and ice cream shops!

The big private yachts all around us are mostly occupied by crew rather than owners, hard at work and they look very snappy in their matching white shirts and khaki shorts, all clean and ironed and smart. They are a nice bunch too, hard working, friendly and polite. But I’d much rather be one of our grubby gang than working on a shiny boat. Probably I’m biased, but I do think we have more fun. Although of course they get to sail to some amazing places too, and probably have the use of washing machines.

One of the awesome things we did over the weekend was to visit to the Surface Warfare Officer School, or SWOS. U. S. Naval Officers train here in big simulators to practice taking command of warships. Less hazardous to experience your first hurricane or enemy attack in a simulator than in real life, and any errors less expensive too. We were very well looked after by all at SWOS, who really couldn’t have been more accommodating, and it was fascinating for the gang to see the other end of the maritime training spectrum.

Then there was a Captains’ toast at the New York Yacht Club, very fancy. Though we were dressed up in our best uniforms of black and white aloha shirts, matching skirts or trousers and shoes(!), they wouldn’t let us in for the want of jackets and ties. But the necessary articles were procured and the view from the front lawn was spectacular once we were appropriately atired. This place is so famous that the seamanship textbook we study onboard defers to the NYYC in matters of dress and decorum. Our dress code on board is somewhat more relaxed, with ties strictly optional, so it was fun to see some of our gang scrub up for the occasion. We had no idea…

And then the festival was finished, just some precision manouvering to get off the dock, a parade of sail out of the harbour, and we call Newport job well done. Time for us to get offshore and spend some time on sail training, which is, after all our real purpose in life. At least until the next festival in Halifax, Nova Scotia on the 19th…. see you there?

Open ship
Parade o sail
Undocking from a tight spot
Victor, Gabe, Signe and Elisabeth stow the spanker

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Bristol Bosun School

4 July 2012

By Kate “Bob” Addison

Picton Castle is heading south from Bristol, Rhode Island towards Newport, RI for the Ocean State Tall Ships event starting tomorrow. The sun’s come out after a greyish start to the day and hands are aloft right now loosing sail. Donald’s making lunch, looks amazing – fried chicken, salad and watermelon.

We’ve been alongside in Bristol for the last ten days, running an introductory Bosun School there; a short version of our main Bosun School that will run from August 6 – October 1 this summer in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada.

So what is Bosun School? The bosun (boat’s swain) on a ship is the most senior seaman, and has responsibility for maintenance and repair of the deck and rig. So Bosun School is a land based school to teach these skills to young sailors. A chance for the young mariner to learn and advance rigging, sailmaking and all manner of ship maintenance skills away from the routine and distractions of life at sea, our Bosun School is run when the ship is alongside a dock so we have more time for bigger projects, and an emphasis on learning and practicing different things to when we’re at sea. We basically teach much the professional sailor should know that you won’t learn at officer school and is actually hard to learn at sea, believe it or not.

We had three main projects on the go during our Bristol Bosun School with three watches rotating around each morning so everyone got to spend some time on each project. We were concentrating on sailmaking, overhauling the capstan and carpentry work on the spanker boom.

Third mate Siri Botnen was leading the sailmaking in our temporary sail loft. We got the whole suit of schooner sails laid out and seamed, and the mainsail also has all the tabling, reefing bands and corner patches sewn on too. The gang did a great job and enjoyed the work – lots done, lots more to do!

The second project was a mechanical one, lead by first mate Michael Moreland and chief engineer David Brown: the capstan up on the forecastle head hadn’t been taken apart and overhauled for years, so we stripped it down and everyone got a turn helping to clear it of rust and grub and goop. It was interesting to see how it fits together and understand how it all works with the gears giving you mechnical advantage and pawls to stop it from slipping backwards. We use the capstan for mooring up the ship sometimes – with up to eight people leaning into their capstan bars and walking round and round we can get enough force on the mooring line to haul the ship in to the dock. We use it to tack down the foresail too. “Board the tack” is the order and with the capstan heaving down on the clew we really can get the leading edge of the sail board tight.

Lastly, we had a carpentry workshop running aft with second mate Sam Sikkema and his gang. They fixed up one fo our Bali sea chests for sale, practiced sharpening and caring for tools and did lots of work on the spanker boom. The spanker boom needed a dutchman inset to replace an area of soft wood. I’ve heard the name came about because Dutchmen were thought too mean to replace a whole plank or spar if it could possibly be patched up instead. Well, the Dutch people I’ve met have all been perfectly generous so I couldn’t possibly comment. Sam and his team did a lovely job, and the boom is now back on the mizzen mast with the sail bent back on – it all looks great. We discovered some real carpentry talent among the crew too.

The afternoons were mostly taken up with sailing and rowing the small boats, trips to local nautical museums, and a bit of time off for everyone. We also had instuctional sessions with the Captain teaching us about sail theory, and chief engineer David Brown taking small groups into the engine room to learn the basics of our mechanical systems: starting and stopping the main engine and the fire pumps. We did lots of provisioning too – lots of new rope and new house batteries gearing up for our upcoming South Pacific Voyage, and plenty of food for the next couple of weeks.

When we get to Lunenburg later in the summer there will be another exciting project to add to the Bosun School mix too: we’ll be rigging up the brand new 50’ Lunenburg schooner and helping to launch her, a very exciting project for the students!

All very busy, everybody worked very hard and learned plenty. We enjoyed Bristol too. It’s a pretty small place, which boasts the longest running 4th of July parade anywhere in the country – it will be the 227th parade this year, so there was a serious of open air concerts by the water, fireworks and all sorts of festivities. The houses are all decorated with stars and stripes flags, bunting, even red white and blue bedding plants. And along the parade route even the line painted on the middle of the road is red white and blue! All together alot of fun. Happy fourth of July!

Drying sails at the dock
Hammer and DB loading batteries
operation seachest
Working on the capstan

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Sailmaking and Aase’s Birthday

28 June, 2012

By Kate “Bob” Addison

Firstly, Happy Birthday to AB Aase and thanks to Dr Jen and her gang for making the cream and berry layered cakes – yum!

I am sitting in the gymnasium of an old empty granite military barrack in Bristol, Rhode Island, USA. It’s a sunny summer’s day outside so the cool of this high-ceilinged hall is very pleasant. The Picton Castle is alongside the pier behind me, just a two minute walk along the water past the fishermen all lined up in the hot sun with their rods and chairs. Her sails are drying in the morning sun.

Five of my shipmates are here too – they’ve set up the huge Singer sewing machine in this big clean space and they’re busy stitching together the cloths of a new sail that we laid out this week. When they pause their stitching for a minute to move the heavy canvas to a new seam, the sound of the machine’s quick clunk is replaced by the mellow sound of Siri’s music drifting from her computer.

Seaming the cloths is one of the first stages in making a sail. The clothes or big strips of cotton canvas are rolled out onto the floor of the ‘sail loft’, cut a bit longer than the right length and sewn together with long seams the length of the fabric to make the strips into a big sheet of canvas roughly the size and shape of a sail, but with stepped edges where the clothes are cut off square at the ends. The next stage is to trim it all to a smooth sail shape. And then the sails are finished by hand with tabling, patches, grommets, roping and reefing points all sewn in. Finishing by hand takes a good deal longer than seaming with a machine, maybe we should re-name it middling and finishing.

These sails are made of a tan cloth called Duradon, contrasting with Picton Castle‘s sails of white cotton canvas. They are destined for a brand new wooden schooner being built right now in Lunenburg, Nova Scoia and due to be launched this August. The soon-to-be owner of this fine vessel? None other than Picton Castle shipmate extrordinaire, returning crew and star of stage and screen: heart throb Ollie Campbell! Swoon! (Editors note: you can tell a girl is writing this, yuck.) Ollie really wanted us to make them so there we go. We’re enjoying making these schooner sails – great learning experience for the Bosun School gang to be able to see how this kind of sails are made and satisfying to see the project to the finish.

The sail is designed on paper first with triangles and geometry and sharpened pencils and the shape marked out on the floor so it fits the vessel. We’re using masking tape on this floor so it comes off again afterwards – we don’t leave a permanent reminder we were here! In a real sail loft they use pins rather than tape, and sometimes just draw the sail on the loft floor.

For a fore-and-aft sail the straight edges of the sail are not straight lines, but curved slightly out at the luff and in at the leech to help give the finished sail its 3-dimentional shape. Ideally a cross section of the sail isn’t flat like a sheet of paper but moulded like an aeroplane wing with a flat leech (that’s the forward edge attached to mast or stay) and then has a belly about 1/3 of the way out towards the luff (that’s the aft edge that goes flappy if you sail too close to the wind). I find it fascinating that sails work like just like aeroplane wings: the difference in length between the long side and the short side of the curve affect the air pressure either side of the sail so it’s sucked forwards towards the side with lower pressure. If the sail is attached to a boat or a ship then it pulls the vessel along with it. Physics says so. In fact the only time that the wind pushes rather than pulls us along is heading dead downwind with the wind coming straight from behind.

This sailmaking is a fascinating skill to learn, too. I think it’s good for any sailor to understand more deeply how their beautiful, silent engines are built and how they do their work. The hand skills of stitching by machine and hand are pretty handy too – don’t have to sail too many miles offshore before being able to mend or reinforce an old or damaged sail become very useful. And in the unlikely event that you don’t carry on sailing after your trip on the Picton Castle at least you’ll know how to stitch your own curtains. And, of course, no one is better than a sailmaker for patching ones jeans.

Birthday Aase!
Cutting the cloth
Siri, Drea and Abbey seaming
The first cloth

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