Captain's Log

Archive for October, 2012

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Pre-departure Task List

By Kate “Bob” Addison

As our Picton Castle is about to set off on another epic voyage, this time bound for and throughout the amazing South Pacific in the trade winds, we thought our readers might be interested to read about some of the detail of our preparations. Sailing to the South Seas might seem like a romantic thing to do and so it is, but there’s a whole heap of work, orientation and training in a sailing ship to be done before we cast off the first line. A lot of this work isn’t very romantic at all… it’s just work.

Senior staff meet on at least a daily basis just before a voyage. The Captain and his officers, together with our fabulous shore-based staff, meet to check on progress, make sure nothing is falling through the cracks, and make plans to deal with anything that could delay our departure or impact the conduct of voyage. As well as the reviews we have a long check-off list to get through, Captain Moreland just gave me his copy to help write this, and it’s ten pages long.

Broadly the things that must be done break down into regulatory requirements imposed by various authorities, and our own internal requirements that the Captain, officers and shore staff have built up over many years of successfully planning and carrying out long voyages.

Picton Castle is registered in, certified and inspected by the Cook Islands, where we will put in many times on this next South Pacific voyage, and naturally we are required to comply with the inspection, maintenance and certification requirements of our maritime authority, as well as all applicable international marine laws. These are very similar to US or Canadian requirements, in case you were wondering. One part of the flag state requirement is that the ship is fully surveyed every year. The survey covers everything from the ship’s hull and machinery to her radio transmission equipment, firefighting systems, ship security systems, all safety equipment such as life rafts and other emergency gear. The list goes on… and on.

There are other ongoing requirements from the Cook Islands Maritime Authorities too, such as our minimum safe manning certificate that specifies the minimum number of professional crew and what minimum qualifications they must hold, and the load line certificate that establishes a certain standard of care and arrangements for the vessel. There are international health certificates, and of course personal travel and medical documents for everyone on board, even for the ship’s cat! Life at sea was certainly more randomly hazardous before much this legislation, especially in the 19th century when sailors were at the mercy of the ship’s owners who may or may not have had scruples about sending an over-stuffed ship out to sea in the hope of making a little extra margin on the cargo. Just one reason that a modern day voyage aboard the Picton Castle might well have seemed like paradise to your average ordinary seaman in the great age of sail.

Part of the ship’s inspection includes being hauled out of the water every two years. This we did in the spring right here at Lunenburg Slipways. While out of the water she has her bottom freshwater blasted clean so it can also be inspected visually, and then repainted with fresh anti-fouling paint. At this time there is also a thorough inspection of all through-hull fittings, prop shaft and propeller, rudder and rudder bearings and zinc anodes, which are all overhauled or replaced as necessary, as well as whatever else the surveyor and prudent seamanship requires. The massive anchors and fathoms of chain are run out so they can be inspected too, and oiled to help maintain them. It’s pretty cool watching her come out of the water – she really does have lovely lines. And she seems ever so big.

Once she’s back in the water, a thorough testing of every system and piece of gear commences. Everything from testing and changing the batteries in all of the fire alarms to making sure we have all of the charts and publications we might need for the places we’re planning to go, and the ports we could possibly run to if the weather should have different plans. We check all of our communications and navigation gear; our two satellite phone and email systems, VHF radios and emergency beacons and radios. The anchors and windlass are tested, as is the steering gear which, along with the freeing ports, gets a good dose of grease to keep it nice and free.

The Engineer has lots to do making sure generators, main engine, water maker and tanks, battery bank, bilge manifold, freezers, pumps, and black and grey water systems, running lights and electricity are all online and working sweetly. He also has to make sure we have spares of everything, all inventoried and stowed away for when we need them, and lastly that the fuel and water tanks are topped up before we go.

The Cook comes next, he has the important job of making sure we have enough provisions to keep a hungry crew fed and happy, and the stoves, galley and provisions are his responsibility. The medical officer, in this case our Doctor, makes an inventory of the drugs and medical supplies we have onboard and orders anything additional we may need. He also has copies of everyone’s medical information and prescriptions. Copies of all of these are kept in the office in Lunenburg, along with emergency contact details for all aboard, and copies of all of the personal and ship’s documents that are onboard. We also orient those with any medical and first aid training to act as his assistants, should that be needed.

Meanwhile the deck officers and crew are plenty busy too. Most of us think sending up rigging, yards and sails is a fun job, working aloft, and it’s certainly a great learning experience for the new crew! Our ship’s boats are overhauled, exercised plenty, then stowed aboard; standing rigging surveyed and repairs made as required. Everything is tarred or painted or slushed, depending on whether or not it’s supposed to move. There are supplies to order and stow aboard for the deck department too – from copper fastenings to miles of manila rope, paint, tar, and timber. We have lots of timber aboard, including a couple of big logs that will be turned into spars on the voyage. A spare compass and spare suits of sails too as well as much canvas and thread to make new sails when we get to the tropics. School books and supplies kindly donated are wrapped in plastic, labelled and stowed. These will be distributed to island schools on our path. Any cargo or supplies for the islands is safely stowed away too.

There is the safety equipment; an astonishing amount and quality of kit, that must be all inspected and carefully stowed for easy access if we ever need it. All hands train and get used to the safety gear. We have enough life rafts for everyone on board on each side of the vessel, so double the capacity of the ship in total. They each have hydrostatic releases and supplies of food, water and flares inside, which must all be kept within their expiration date. We have containers of extra food, flares and water to grab if we need them. There are fire extinguishers and alarms in every compartment as well as three fixed fire fighting systems in the high risk areas – again the dates are all checked regularly at sea, and as part of our pre-departure check-list. We have breathing apparatus and firefighting outfits, which we sincerely hope we never have to use except in a drill. We have man overboard rescue gear that’s always kept in the rescue boat, a stand-alone fire pump that can pump water out of the ship or onto a fire depending on the situation. There’s emergency steering gear and a manual bilge pump too. Then there are flares, EPIRB, SARTs, emergency flashlights, waterproof radios and satellite phones, hailer, intercom, foghorn, climbing harnesses, personal floatation devices and cold-water immersion suits for everybody on board. Everything is taken out, checked, overhauled, batteries replaced and re-stowed before every voyage. And all this must be familiar to the crew and trainees. Then there is drilling, drilling, drilling in all our emergency procedures as well as in bracing the yards, setting, taking and furling sail, small boat training and so on.

But the most important thing for our safety is the skill and judgement of our crew. And ‘judgement’ as it were, has yet to be ‘regulated’ or put in a book. Kit stored in a locker doesn’t often save lives. So we drill for all of the emergencies that we can think of (fire, flood, abandon ship, man overboard, damage control, launching and recovering boats underway, heavy weather), spending time talking through other people’s roles as well as each person’s own station according to the station bills posted throughout the ship. We are working to build a general awareness in the crew of what action we might take in any given situation, what kit we have on board and how to use it. Our everyday life aboard is focused on safety too: working aloft, moving heavy loads, handling paint and other chemicals – the whole time we are working to build a crew who are aware of their surroundings and able to keep themselves, their shipmates and their ship out of unnecessary danger. So we start with a general and then a more detailed orientation so every crew member knows where every piece of safety kit is stored and how to use it. Then we have safety aloft training, and a review of the standing orders of the ship as well as the crew handbook, which itself includes all of the safety policies and procedures. And then detailed instruction and supervision of every task until people are deemed competent to carry them out unsupervised. It is important to bear in mind that emergency duties only come into their own if there is an emergency, better not to have a fire than have to put one out.

Everything’s documented too, from our Safety Management Plan to the safety policies and operating procedures. So these documents are reviewed and refreshed before the start of every voyage. And they are reviewed and refreshed during a voyage too.

Weeks before we’re ready to sail, the Captain and mates start following the weather religiously, checking different sources on the internet (the US Navy has some great ones) to try to get the best possible information so they can make a passage plan that makes the most of the weather we’re likely to get. This plan always has contingencies and options built in because weather forecasting is inherently uncertain, and gets less certain the further ahead you look. Once at sea we get regular updates from something called GRIB files. If the weather looks too nasty then we wait on a departure until it’s favourable. We have a schedule like everyone else, but the weather is one thing that you can’t control, so if we’re late we’re late. Once deep sea, you do the best you can taking best advantage of the weather and the up to date forecasts we get.

So, this is what we have been up to the last few weeks.

Then comes the day where the forecasts are promising, and finally, thoroughly drilled, stowed and inspected, we clear out through customs and immigration, muster all hands, do a final headcount to check we have everyone on board (and no stowaways!) and we’re ready to cast off our lines and set sail for our next adventure.

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Weather

By Kate “Bob” Addison

As always before a departure bound deep sea of any kind, the Captain and Mates study the weather very closely for many days before we plan to sail.

Last week Captain Moreland made the decision that the Picton Castle would not set sail as planned on the 21st, but stay in Lunenburg because of the weather. He says that he did not make that decision because he knew that the nascent low pressure system in the Caribbean was going to turn into a hurricane; but precisely because nobody knew what it was going to turn into or how big or strong. It was the uncertaintity which kept us fast alongside. At that time there was not yet a hurricane, just some ominously bright colours on the long range forecasts. And crucially the forecasts, which are based on a handful of different computer models, were very divergent in their predictions. The forecasts were all over the place. This is a sign that they were not yet reliable – if the models all say the same thing, there’s a reasonable chance that they are right, even looking quite a few days ahead; if they differ, not so much. And so we stayed in port for a couple of days to see how the system would develop and where it was headed.

What developed of course was Hurricane Sandy, which has been moving slowly north rather than heading out into the Atlantic as we had hoped it might. By Tuesday/Wednesday it was clear that we were looking a very big and broad weather system, and not one you could expect to dodge around. This was going to take up much of the western North Atlantic. The Captain figured that this was going to take a week or more to clear up, so here we sit in Lunenburg. We have never waited before so long for a single weather system.

The interaction with the big high pressure system in the North Atlantic and the jet stream have been complex, and causing the unusual track that has been so heavily reported. Our crew are generally interested in weather, and there have been plenty of weather charts on laptops and phones being discussed by the off-watch in the cafes and eateries of Lunenburg. Classified as a category one hurricane, Sandy is not the strongest storm we’ve ever seen, but it is huge – and moving very slowly. These two factors combine to create the big seas and the severe damage we’ve been seeing in the news. Sustained strong winds over a large area cause damage on land and whip up the seas far more than a faster-moving system would, and this is part of the reason that Sandy is causing such chaos.

Meanwhile the duty watches have been busy preparing the ship for the tail end of Sandy, which is predicted to hit Nova Scotia later today. If a big swell comes into the harbour the ship will surge, which can quickly casue damage to her dock lines, so we’ve rigged extra lines for security and wrapped them all tightly with stout canvas, rubber tubing and old rope to help guard against chafe damage. The crew went aloft first thing this morning to check the gaskets that hold each sail tightly in its stow, and to double them all up with extra gaskets we keep just for this purpose. A sustained strong wind can rip a sail out of its stow, making it much harder to deal with as it flaps around damaging itself and anything in its path. We don’t want to send crew aloft to deal with that when the wind is up, so we get extra gaskets on early while it’s easy to do so. Everything else on board has been snugged down and made fast too; the halyards for all of the lifting yards have been lashed to the shrouds so that they don’t bang about, and everything loose on deck lashed down or taken below.

An now we’re as snug and ready as we can be, the crew are cheerful and they have done a brilliant job getting us ready. And so as the sky turns grey and the wind starts to pick up, we hurry up and wait.

All secure aloft
Extra lines ashore and double gaskets on all sails
Murray adds chafe gear to a dock line
Weather talk at muster yesterday when it was still sunny

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Departure Delayed

Picton Castle’s departure from Lunenburg has been delayed again, so we’ll no longer be setting sail on Monday at 2pm. There’s a potential weather system brewing in the southern part of the North Atlantic that we’re watching closely. Departure from Lunenburg will be delayed at least one day. As soon as we have more information on an updated departure day and time, we’ll post it here.

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South Pacific Voyage Departure

****UPDATE**** Due to weather, Picton Castle’s departure has been delayed until Monday at 2:00pm.

Picton Castle has been abuzz with activity for the past three weeks with orientation, training and preparation for the South Pacific Voyage. New trainee crew members joined us October 1st and have been getting to know each other, working together, learning the ways of the ship and starting to build a solid foundation of seamanship skills.

We’ll tell you more about the activities of the past three weeks in the coming days, but for now we want to let you know that Picton Castle is scheduled to set sail from Lunenburg this Sunday, October 21st, at 2:00pm, bound for the island of Carriacou in the country of Grenada in the West Indies. All are welcome at our wharf at 174 Bluenose Drive, Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada on Sunday to wave and wish the crew fair winds for this voyage to the South Pacific.

Departure, as always, is subject to the weather. Any updates will be posted here, so please check in before you head for the waterfront on Sunday. For the most up to date news and photos, including almost daily posts on how the crew have been keeping busy for the past few weeks, please like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

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