Captain's Log

Archive for December, 2012

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T’was the Night Before Christmas

PICTON CASTLE 2012 in the GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

T’was the night before Christmas,
when all through the barque
not a shipmate was stirring,
not even this old fart.

The stockings were hung on the fiferails with care
in the hopes that the Fat Man soon would be there
The crew were all sleeping, except those on watch
while visions of good times swirled (perhaps a debauch?)

With the lookout in her sarong, mate taking star sights,
we were steering full and by on a sweet tradewinds night.
When up on the foc’sle there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bunk to see what was the matter.

I dashed to my porthole and unscrewed the dog,
but saw not a thing through the miasma and fog,
Rushing on deck and calling the crew,
we braced back the yards, stopped the ship where she flew.

Hove to she was and the noises persisted,
all crew at the lee rail, no wonder she listed,
looking forward through the murk what, to my surprise, did I spy?
But a little man, in a conch, pulled by dolphins five,

He called them by name as they danced the bow wave,
Strange it might sound – but one was called Dave
Saint Nick surfed along and called out the others,
“Spinner and Spanker, Wanker and Caruthers”

They leaped in the air, spinning and flipping,
climbed to the stars to the great northern dipping,
atop the galley house they rested at last,
and popped down on deck demanding an evenings repast
(From Donald)

The whole gang was on deck this bright Christmas night
to greet a jolly red elf, five flying porpoise – what a sight!
The popcorn got popped, a marlinspike conjured,
a tree with sparkles magically alight and dancing the word.

Shooting stars streaked the sky, seabirds flew by
tradewinds blew us along, whales breached and waved hi.
The pinrail groaned with delights, Christmas eve turned to morn
The dancing ended with sunrise, and the elf and friends were gone.

Yards braced up once again, sails set high and low,
coils hung as they should be, just so,
our ship sailing along sweetly, off-watch below at rest
we’re bound for the South Seas and the isles of the blest

The Fat Man called out as he circled our ship
“All of you have a Natty, Irie Krissmuss…
sail on, be true, lean into the wind, don’t slip”

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Little Christmas Eve in the South Pacific

By Kate “Bob” Addison

December 23rd, 2012

Sunday at sea, the day before Christmas eve. All is peaceful aboard Picton Castle as she slips quietly through the water heading SWxS for Isla San Cristobal in the Galapagos. The breeze is a Force four and we have lots of canvas set – all fore and aft sails, and all squares to the t’gallants, all braced sharp on a port tack. Our position is 0 degrees 28 minutes South, 088 degrees 39 minutes West and we are finally in the South Pacific Ocean. We crossed the equator into the Southern Hemisphere yesterday afternoon at half past four, at a longitude of 087º11’W. The crossing itself went without a hitch, not even a bump as we sailed across the line – no sign of Neptune yet either, although plenty of communications from his court in various forms… perhaps he’s already knocked off for the holidays, or busy on a cruise ship. Or perhaps not…

The Christmas festivities have picked up a notch – the treat-baking in the galley went on ’til past midnight last night, and a rather fabulous octopus pinata is taking shape on the aloha deck – made from balloons, papier mache and International paint, he grows by night under the skillful hands of Hege, Kerstin, Signe and Jo. Yesterday afternoon saw an impromptu craft party on the quarterdeck as decorations had to be made for the tree. Allison S set the standards high with an embroidered, canvas star pillow, and Drea kept things nautical with a seven-strand manilla star-knot. Signe showed us how to make star baubles from long strips of coloured paper, while Tammy made snowflakes, Gabe seashells and flags, and Hege angels and baskets.

December 24th, 2012 – Christmas Eve

The Galapagos Island of San Cristobal came into sight last night before sunset, and now it looms large to the port side of the ship. We are steaming again now – the wind died overnight, and we’re expecting to drop the anchor in an hour or so. Christmas in the Galapagos!

Christmas craft party on the quarterdeck
Kendall has antlers on the aloha deck
Tyler and Signe celebrate Christmas on the foc sle head

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Nearing Christmas… And The Line

By Kate “Bob” Addison

3º13’N 083º19’W

Picton Castle is steaming from Panama to Galapagos. This area off the coast of Ecuador has light winds more often than not, and so we are pushing on, planning to make landfall in the Galapagos by Christmas.

Pushing on with ship’s work too – yesterday afternoon’s workshop was doing a proper painting and varnishing job. As Captain says, like playing the drums, everyone THINKS they know how to paint….

There was skipjack tuna for supper yesterday – fresh as you like they were, caught, cleaned and cooked all aboard and within just a few hours. We’ve got our bamboo outriggers set up now, sticking out each side from the quarterdeck so we can trail extra lines behind the ship. We’re all looking forward to more fish in our near future as we head away from the over-fished costal regions out into the bountiful Pacific.

By night the galley has been busy with industrious Elves baking up big batches of Christmas treats, and every morning when I arrive for work in the office, the charthouse is more decorated than it was the night before with its trim of paper snowflakes, baubles and pomanders. The is lots of clandestine gift making in odd corners too, and the Batcave started the season of giving with hand-delivered Christmas cards for every compartment yesterday. For all it’s hot and salty here, Christmas is definitely in the air.

There have been notes from King Neptune apearing too, these last few days – ever moving with the times HRM can now be reached by email. At just 3 degrees North we are quickly nearing his realm, and messengers in the form of dolphins and whales have been arriving to let us know that we are nearing The Line….

Picton Castle Santas aloft

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Sailing From Panama, Bound For Galapagos

By Kate “Bob” Addison

Monday morning and aboard the Picton Castle hands are aloft loosing sail, making ready to sail off the hook. We will be at sea again before lunch, bound for Isla San Cristobal, Galapagos. We are anchored off Taboga Island, 7 miles off the coast from Panama City. This seems to be where Panamanians come for a holiday or a party weekend, with dance music playing on the beach, and lots of boats rafted up just off the shore. It’s the sort of place you could wear a sun dress, flip flops and a straw hat, and yet not particularly stand out as a tourist. Yet it is also a beautiful island with a lovely old stone Latin village with gardens and flowers everywhere to explore. People are very friendly and the place was “muy tranquillo” after the bustle of Panama City.

Hard to believe it’s been nine days since we made our transit of the Panama Canal to the Pacific Ocean – Panama is a styling city, and a lot of fun, but it’s also pretty hectic and time seems to fly there. We do a huge amount of provisioning in Panama – you really can buy anything there, and some days it felt like we did actually buy one of everything the city could sell us – from barrels of engine oil to crates of instant noodles. The crew had their own provisioning to do too – stocking up on things that may be harder to find in the small islands, and buying local souveniers, like the colourful molas that the local ladies make from cutting out patterns from many layers of fabric. Panama is a very effective place to get things done too and they do things pronto and on time! The slowest part of the procedure was probably getting everything back to the ship where we were anchored off Isla Flamenco Marina. Many runs to shore and back in the small boat, and hoisting everything aboard with block and tackle. And of course we had to do lots of shopping for friends at Pitcairn Island only 3,200 miles away.

Meanwhile the deck department was kept busy repairing some minor damage to the headrig. During our transit we had a close encounter with the concrete wall of one of the locks – I guess piloting a little ship like ours is quite different to directing a panamax tanker with twin props and bow thrusters for our pilot. The Panama Canal is the only waterway in the world where the pilot actually takes command of the vessel and does not simply act as an “advisor” to the ship’s master. Captain said it was not bad and that the pilot was actually doing a good job and just got out of shape. Thankfully the damage was minor, and no spars were broken, so everything is now repaired – nearly all was done by the crew aboard ship. Good learning process for our gang to re-rig everything, replace the stays and ratlines and re-parcel, serve and tar everything and give it all a good check over – could have been way worse.

And then there was the sight-seeing to do. We are definitely all about the sailing, but one of the great charms of a Picton Castle voyage is the time off to explore ashore; two watches are off at a time so there’s always someone to hang out with, and Panama has much to see and do for crew with time off and a tourist agenda. Highlights were the ruins of Old Panama, the old city sacked by Henry Morgan in the late 1600’s, and Casca Viejco with its gorgeous, crumbling colonial Spanish architecture. Actually it’s crumbling much less than the last time the ship was here in 2010 – the shiny new bars and restaurants and beautiful apartments seem to be evidence of money pouring in to this place. The facades of the grand old buildings are being preserved and restored, and the buildings behind rebuilt into these beautiful bourgeois apartments. Every other block seemed to be a building site, the facade propped up with vast scaffolding instead of the whole thing just being allowed to collapse and begun again.

The headrig was all finished a couple of days ago, and we were provisioned and all ready to go, but even the best laid plans are not set in stone and our departure was delayed by a couple of days because one of our crew members got sick. I am pleased to report he is back aboard and almost back to perfect health now. It’s one thing dealing with someone being unwell at sea, and of course we make long offshore passages so we are pretty well equipped to take care of such situations, but it’s quite another thing to leave port with someone sick. We also hate to leave shipmates behind, and so we waited the couple of days it took for him to be back on form before setting sail. Good medical care in Panama is a plus too.

Now we are off shore again, 800 miles to the famed Galapagos Islands in light winds. Ahead lays the Pacific Islands, the Equator and Christmas.

headrig repair at anchor with Panama City skyline
loading barrels at anchor at Panama
Tammy shopping with beautiful fabrics

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Panama Canal

By Kate “Bob” Addison

Saturday December 8th, 2012

It’s 5:34 am and Picton Castle crew have been up for an hour already, we hoisted up the anchor, drank gallons of coffee and got underway. We’re transiting the Panama Canal today, and since we need to make a daylight transit we have to be at the first locks at first light. It’s going to be a long day, but to put it in perspective this long day would have been a hard four month voyage if we had taken the long way round, by way of Cape Horn.

10:30 am – we are now motoring across Lake Gatun, our pilot is standing with the mate on the bridge and the line handlers have left the ship until the next set of locks. Our crew are almost passengers in the canal – specialist line handlers are sent aboard to handle the wire cables that attach the ship to the locomotives or donkeys running on tracks through each lock. These guys have an awesome technique with a heaving line – makes it look almost like the well-trained line can see its target and grows wings to get there. They look so nonchalant when they throw the things too.

The Panama Canal is truly impressive both for the scale of its engineering ambition and its political history. The huge Gatun Lake was artificially created 26m above sea level by damning near the mouth of the Chagres River. A series of enormous lock gates lifts ships up from one ocean and down the other side to the other, releasing 26 million gallons of fresh water into the ocean for each transit. A few additional gallons were used to scrub the decks and deckhouses of the Picton Castle and some more are now being used to give her grubby crew a refreshing power shower on deck. So much fresh water! All clean and fresh and cool from the rainforests that sweep down all around the edges of the lake. It’s proper Indiana Jones stuff with creepers and lush greenery hanging down and amazing birds flying over. Brody just saw an alligator off the starboard beam, or perhaps it was a caiman or crocodile.

4:57 pm. We have just cleared out through the Miraflores locks, and are now in the Pacific Ocean with salt water under our keel once again. Very cool!

I’m obviously not the first person to think the idea of the canal kind of neat – according to the booklet I’ve been reading, a royal warrant by Emperor Charles V ordered investigations into the possibility of a canal across Central America in 1534, with serious attempts to build it beginning with the French in 1884. The current canal was finally finished in August 1914 following some complicated politics between Columbia, the USA and the newly formed state of Panama. Today the canal is a hub for shipping with huge quantities of stuff, manufactured and raw materials, passing through en route to a thousand far-flung places. Today we transited with a roll-on roll-off car carrier with a Maltese flag but a Norwegian Captain, and a chemical tanker from Hong Kong.

And the progress continues – a whole new set of locks is being built alongside the old to allow much larger ships than the current ‘panamax’ vessels to transit. The new locks will also employ a water saving scheme – a large proportion of the water used for each transit will flow into huge water storage chambers alongside the main lock chamber to be reused, which means more transits are possible in a year and also better water security for Panama’s population. Clever cookies those engineers.

4:30 pm. New Panama City has come into view, the glass skyscrapers looking like they are floating on the water as we steam to our anchorage just outside the Flamenco marina.

6:03 pm. It’s almost dusk now as we drop the hook, set the spanker and stand by to launch the boats.

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Towards Panama

December 4th, 2012

Tuesday morning dawns bright as Picton Castle rounds and shapes up on a SWly heading past Columbia on our approach to Panama. Our position is 10Deg57’N 17Deg45’W, speed over ground 8 knots, and we have topsails set as we motor sail through these uncharacteristically light winds. Temperature is a steady 30 degrees Celsius, and people are reminiscing about what it used to feel like to be cold.

These last couple of days have seen some wonderful marine wildlife passing by our ship as we glide through these Caribbean waters. Whales and flying fish have passed near by, and yesterday Brody caught our first decent fish of the voyage – a good-sized mahi mahi which was quite delicious when Donald cooked it up for supper.

Last night the 8-12 lookouts were entertained by dolphins phosphorescing as they leapt in the bow wave of the ship. There was, apparently, slight concern that the glowing green streaks may be alien sea monsters or giant eels, and thus much relief and delight when they resolved themselves into gentle, playful dolphins.

There have been books on astronomy, ancient myths and legends, the stories behind the constellations doing the rounds of the aloha deck and the hatch on this passage. There is something magical about these big open skies at sea: seeing the great circle of the uninterrupted horizon; watching the sun rise and set day after day; and at night following the stately procession of the stars and planets across their celestial stage. Not surprising it makes our thoughts turn to ancient people and ancient ideas, makes us share some of the wonder they must have felt watching this same cosmic light show. And we look for patterns and stories and science to make sense of it all, just as they did.

Brody shows off a freshly caught mahi mahi
steering the ship in the moonlight
sunset over the port bow

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The Great Picton Castle Seamanship Derby

By Kate “Bob” Addison

December 3rd, 2012

I am sitting on the bench on the well deck of our barque enjoying the shade of the galley house and the breeze up forward here as we steam through these light airs to get to Panama. Gabe is sitting next to me splicing a new rode for the small boat anchor, Kendall is at the paint locker preparing some buff paint and Gary is standing lookout up ahead on the port side of the foc’sle head. The laundry on lines above us billows and dances in the breeze. It’s a Monday morning at sea and all is quiet industry.

Yesterday, being a Sunday at Sea and the day of the 7th Quazi-Biannual Picton Castle Seamanship Derby, was quite different. At 1300 the watches assembled round the main hatch with stylish team costumes and team spirit running high. In the running to be crowned 2012 Champion Seamen we had AB Victor’s 4-8 “Why Knot?” watch, AB Susie’s 12-4 “Black and white bow-tie” watch and last but never least AB Allison’s 8-12 watch of “Dkembe-pants pirates”.

All was quiet with suspense and anticipation and then… enter the judges! The mates looked smartly tropical in crisp white shirts and pareos, the scorekeeper in a delightful green, blue and white sailor-inspired ensemble (so on trend darling), and the cheerleaders and line-judges looking really quite… extraordinary!

And then the battle began! Starting with a pin rail chase, one person from each watch up, first one to the starboard fore topgallant buntline wins a point: Go Go Go! No pushing, no running, lots of heckling! There was a Scandinavian round with Danes and Norwegians dashing to the main topgallant staysail sheet pennant with everyone else cheering loudly, but having absolutely no idea where they should be going… The final round in this competition had 2nd Mate Sam calling out “David Brown” and then “The bosun” sending our line judges scarpering as they were chased down by the watches, who were by this point hungry for points. After much drama 12-4 were crowned winners of the pin rail chase – perhaps it’s all that practice at midnight sail-handling giving them the edge?

The second round was called “Take in sail!” and rather predictably involved taking in sail. Mainsail and foresail were to be struck, with points and gold stars awarded for speed, style and skill. This was a close race, all three watches did very well with all times under 1 minute. 12-4 got a bonus enthusiasm point for breaking a buntline, while 4-8 were speed demons taking just 52 seconds to strike both sails and 8-12 were awarded style points for bunting up both sails evenly and simultaneously, to the delight of our exacting judges.

All of that sail setting and striking left rather a mess of the lines on the deck, but luckily the next round “Coil and hang!” soon sorted this out. All lines were flung down and the watches timed as they put them back on the pins and coiled and hung. Captain Moreland gave a demonstration of how neat, even coils should look, and told the watches all they had to do was better than him… well let’s just say that all three watches did well enough, but 12-4 won the points in this round for most stylish coils.

After a water break for our athletes and the judging panel, the competition moved up the quarterdeck for the “box-the-compass circle of doom” and knot tying elements of the trials. Both competitions required the whole watch to be on tip-top form – any error in the boxing reset the compass to North, and every watch member’s knot was inspected by the judges before being passed as satisfactory. This was a close competition with a selection of knots being won by every watch. Signe won bonus points for the 8-12 by tying a bowline behind her back with one hand, but 4-8 took the round overall with wins in the bowline, square-knot and sheet-bend categories, and a 2nd place bonus for Brody for being second fastest with the one-handed behind-back bowline. Good work all!

And so with our brave competitors tested to the limits of their seaman’s skill, knowledge and character, and the Captain and mates well pleased with the spirit and hard work of their crew it was time to announce the results.

“Best attention to detail” was awarded to 8-12 watch under AB Allison and Chief Mate Michael. “Most Stylin” was awarded to the 12-4 with AB Susie and 2nd Mate Sam, and the coveted “Most Salty” award went to the extremely competitive and Scandinavian Mate/AB combo of 3rd mate Siri and AB Victor and the 4-8 watch. Good job all round!

Pinrail madness!
square knots by the 4-8 including Brody, Hayley and Alex
The final scoreboard
Victor and the line judges

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Off The Spanish Main

Sunset – November 30 – our barque is steering west about 50 miles off the coast of Venezuela, what was once called the “Spanish Main”. The island of Aruba is up ahead about 40 miles off the port bow. We may see this low sandy island in the morning. The ship has her yards almost squared and all sail set apart from the spanker, the light breezes being too far aft for this sail just now. These soft tradewinds flow over the starboard quarter moving us along at a fine 5 knots. It is plenty warm but cooling if you are standing in the breeze. The sails are silhouetted over the silhouetted lookout up on the foc’sle head against the striped red sky way up ahead. From time to time the port and starboard running lights glow on the thick foresheets as they swing into these green and red lights. Seas are small, maybe three feet or less. Up on the well deck someone is plucking on a guitar, quite passably too. Sounds like “Yellowbird”, might be DB. We have the weather clew of the mainsail hauled up to let some wind make its way to the foremast and pull us along instead of pushing. This is a smooth quiet evening at sea. Someone else is giving himself a cool seawater bucket bath, can hear the water cascading over the decks. The Caribbean seas wash and chuckle along our waterline as our 560 tons of riveted steel slips through. It is dark night now we can see stars between the clouds and the loom of the lights of Aruba up ahead.

looking out over the starboard bow
silhouette foresail
starboard running light reflected on the fore tack

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