Monday, January 21st, 2013
By Kate “Bob” Addison
What better to write about on a glorious, sparkling South Pacific morning than the most glamorous of Picton Castle crew – the daymen riggers?
Often compared to colorful birds of paradise (or more commonly to monkeys) riggers are happiest with both feet off the decks, working high up aloft. Here, they enjoy the finest ocean views of the penthouse suite here aboard Hotel Picton Castle. With the wind in their hair and the sun on their tanned, muscular backs, it’s no wonder they look down on the rest of us. Literally.
So what do they get up to all day, those Amazonian aerialists, masters of twine and tar? Well the rig is their playground but also their vocation, and looking after the running and standing rigging is their craft. Or at least the area of interest and learning, as these guy ain’t actually “riggers” yet, that takes years, but this the best start one could have.
There are hundreds of lines of manila running rigging on our barque, and they are all used to set, strike and control our 22 sails so that we can catch the wind and make our way across the oceans of the world. There are miles of standing rigging too – the fixed structural lines and wires that tension the masts and spars, pulling sails and ship together into a robust but flexible whole. The standing rigging is what makes our rig so habitable too. Unlike big schooners and yachts, the rig of a square-rigger is intentionally designed to be climbed and occupied by humans – there are taut horizontal ratlines, which make for the perfect wide and sloping ladders to run up aloft from deck to the royals. And then across the cranelines and horse and out onto the yard to stow sail, there are foot-ropes to stand on and back-ropes for support and added security – all the preserve of the rigging department.
There is a mixture of wire and natural fiber rope aloft to fulfill all of these functions, and each piece must be inspected regularly and kept in tip top condition for the rig to remain strong and secure. So we begin with a monthly rig check, where every inch of the rig is examined, and any wear or other problems noted. Then the fun starts, and the riggers and their assistants administer whatever is needed: anointing with grease, tar and linseed oil as appropriate; worming, parceling and serving over wire or rope to protect it from the weather, sewing on patches of leather or canvas chafe gear to act as sacrificial protection against the dreaded friction, replacing lines in the running rigging or fixing it up or end-for-ending if the damage is isolated and the rest of the line still good. And of course, new wire mousings for any shackles and here and there.
When we send up additional sails it’s the riggers who climb up aloft to fix the blocks and run the lines to handle them – last week they were busy fixing up the studding sails (or stuns’ls) on the port side of foremast. Quite simply the sexiest sails known to a square rigger, the stuns’ls extend out beyond the side of the ship to increase her sail area when running off the wind in lighter airs. They are set from strong pine stuns’l booms which slot into the hoops or stuns’l irons welded on the top of the lower yards and upper topsail yards. Stuns’ls add maybe half or three quarters of a knot to our speed through the water – which doesn’t sound like much but that could be a hundred miles or a day every week.
They are also great training for the gang on watch – you have to be snappy taking in stuns’ls if the wind picks up or a squall passes over, as something could easily break, and besides you can’t take in anything else until you’re done with the stuns’ls. So, a good learning opportunity and a bit of extra speed, but I think the real charm is that they look so, so cool – outstretched like a great white wing, trembling in the breeze.