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Tasman Winds

By Cheri Davidson

14 October 2013

We’ve heard stories of Picton Castle being a tough sea-going sailing ship, but now we know first-hand and have our own stories to tell.

After sailing from Sydney Harbour in the company of 15 other ships, six of us are continuing on to New Zealand as part of the Tall Ships Regatta. A race from Sydney, Australia to Opua, New Zealand! Aboard Picton Castle, we didn’t have any grand expectations of racing. We aren’t really a fast ship. The Captain says towing an almost six foot prop does not add to our speed under sail in spite of the ship’s medium clipper lines. Still as our slogan goes, “We may be slow, but we get around!”

It was all good fun to see other sailing ships on the horizon that first day out. But by the next morning they were out of sight. Our first couple days at sea we had fairly light winds and were sailing along at a whopping 1-2 knots. Of course with our new trainees on board there were more than just a couple of green faces clutching the leeward rail. Then just when the seasickness was subsiding, the Captain mustered us for a talk on the weather to come. Expecting 30-35 knots of wind overnight and maybe more. Wow! Hold on to your hats, folks!

There are things to do to prepare us and the ship for a gale. Double gasket some of the lighter sails to make sure they stay stowed, close all the hatches and make sure they are dogged down good and tight, close the watertight doors in case any big waves come busting over the rail, lash the things in your bunk and sleeping areas to make sure things don’t tumble around, and most importantly, get some sleep while you can. When the seas get lumpy it can be hard to get a good night’s sleep. The swells don’t just toss around our belongings, they toss us around in our bunks too!

The wind and swells started picking up in the late afternoon, making simple things like eating and cleaning up after dinner take much longer and much more effort than normal. But we aren’t in a rush. Slow and steady does it. We don’t just walk with our legs, we use our hands too in case our feet slip. We rig up man ropes across the main deck and the quarterdeck to hold on to and clip into if necessary. Everyone must wear a harness on deck at all times to clip in on deck if needed. Overnight we did everything in pairs.

For most of the night watch we keep everyone up on the quarterdeck near the helm. Captain’s orders were that no one was to cross the main deck as it sometimes had waves coming over the rail. To get from the forward part of the ship to the quarterdeck for watch, we file through the hold and engine room below decks and come up the charthouse ladder, so we could walk from one end of the ship to the other safely. This was designed this way on purpose.

Standing on the quarterdeck, I must say some of the waves were bigger than anything I ever saw when I sailed from Lunenburg to Bali on Picton Castle‘s fifth world voyage. The ship doesn’t often see these conditions now, sailing mostly in the tropics. All of us know that this ship spent many years plying the North Sea and North Atlantic, so she can handle this. The question was, could we?

Our new trainees were definitely up for the job. Being on helm was especially tough. Steering isn’t easy with swells bashing us around. But staying on course is important so we don’t get knocked by waves on our beam and rip any sails. We can ride them out much more nicely from the quarter. After a four hour watch everyone was pretty much knackered, so straight to our bunks we went.

Waking up this morning, the wind and swell had calmed down quite a bit. We had steady winds of 35 knots for most of the night, with gusts blasting up to 40-45 knots. Back down to 25-30 knots in the morning seemed like nothing in comparison. The ship was fine, and we were fine. Nothing broken and no injuries. Onwards to New Zealand! I just hope it warms up a bit. Cold as anything out here!

Chris, Gary, Martin and the Doc on watch in the Tasman Sea

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