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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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