Captain's Log

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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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