Captain's Log

Archive for January, 2014

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Maria at Sea

By apprentice Maria Andersen from Denmark

The sun has already started to rise in the horizon, it is four o’clock in the morning and our watch has started. In the beginning I was really tired at this point, but now that I am getting used to sleeping in my bunk (that is, by the way, not as steady as my bed at home) I am more rested and ready for the day. The long passage between New Zealand and Pitcairn is almost over and I have set a personal record of being at sea for nearly a month.

We are four Danes coming straight from the Danish training ship Danmark, and out in “the real life” so to say; before it was more about learning how to sail, now we do it, and it is great fun and different from what we are used to, for example: free time. We have 16 hours where nothing is planned if there is not a workshop in the afternoon, and what do you do with those hours? Well, sleeping is not a bad thing, otherwise you could enjoy the sunsets and sunrises, feel the antigravity, or go for a cup of tea on the aloha deck while some of the guys are heaving a big tuna inboards. There is a lot of things to do and before you realize it, you have to go on watch again.

I didn’t know what to expect when I sent my application to the Picton Castle. After thirty-three hours of travelling Denise and I arrived in New Zealand, then we came to the ship in the evening when it was raining, jet lag was definitely a factor, and we popped our heads down into the “batcave”, where the girls were already getting ready to go to sleep. Little did we know that all these people we just met in the skiff, in the rain, and in the bunks next to us were going to be our family for the next couple of months.

We have had some tough weather, and the raingear is earning its money back. Rain gear is a great thing to have. But one thing I have discovered is that rain gear is no use out in the head rig when it goes under water or higher on the deck when a big wave decides to attack you with no further notice. At some point you just don’t care anymore – you empty your boots, and keep on working. Luckily the water is not that cold and most of the time laughter is the best cure, especially when you are wet through five layers.

The weather has also been in our favour, and on Christmas Eve we all gathered on the hatch and watched a movie together, which is not how I usually celebrate Christmas, but fun to try. Sometimes you miss your family more than others, and it is hard when you realize that you can’t just call them whenever you feel like it, but the longest journey is coming to its end, and soon I will be able to talk with my loved ones at home. So much to tell, and a big phone bill is waiting dead ahead.

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Denise’s Birthday

By apprentice Denise Knudsen

So it became the 19th of January, my 20th birthday. It started with my night watch 10 minutes before midnight (I’m on the 12-4). It was a typically windy and cold night. We (the watch) took over the deck and at midnight sharp, two of my shipmates Beamy and Mark started singing happy birthday and shortly after our watch officer John came with a birthday message from my Dad back home in Denmark. I’m glad it was a dark night because I must have looked silly smiling from ear to ear.

The rest of the night watch went as usual for me at least – the rest of my watch went sneaking into the galley, while I did lookout and helm. Eventually four hours passed and we were stood down. At 8:05am I got a lovely birthday breakfast wake-up by Hannah saying, “Good morning Dennis, happy birthday, the Danes have baked some special Danish bread this morning if you want to get up for it.” Even though I was tired, I couldn’t resist the good breakfast. Maria and Gustav had made muffins, oatmeal, porridge, bacon and rundstykker (the Danish bread). Everyone wished me a happy birthday and I got birthday presents from both Maria and Mark: Maria gave me a beautiful home braided bracelet, made from organic rope nibs and Mark’s
was very creative; he gave me a homemade puzzle made from twisted wire, a bit of candy, and a ticket to the “Picton Castle Theatre”. After breakfast and finally solving the puzzle, I went to bed again before day watch.

We got up for watch at 12 noon, as per usual. John tells us the tasks of the day and normally Sunday means no extra work besides keeping the ship sailing, which turned out to be work enough, since we previously snapped a fore t’gallant buntline and a main t’gallant sheet that needed replacing. Beamy was sent up the foremast for the buntline, Meg (our lead seaman) and I went up to replace the sheet, while Mark on deck was slushing the wire. Even though it was work on a Sunday I quite enjoyed it – you learn a lot about the lines and what they do when you have to put them up and lead them through every fair lead under the guidance of a good lead seaman. When we were done with the sheet there was only 30 minutes left of the watch and because it was Sunday I got to read my book until the end of the watch.

Sunday is ship’s cook Donald’s day off duty which meant our watch had to do dinner, a task that Beamy and Meg took on and they did so good: Sunday roast beef; roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, potatoes, veggies and gravy. Afterwards we held “Gentleman’s Club” which basically means that you wear your nice clothes, play cards and socialize with your watch. So we were all sitting there looking very pretty and clean when Beamy and Meg brought down a big birthday cake shaped as the ace of spades. It was a chocolate fudge cake, very delicious. Vai came down with a present for me – a homemade sailor handbag with little grommets and everything. So awesome! And Meg gave me a box of chocolate. We talk and had fun for a couple of hours before bed. So all in all I had an awesome birthday with awesome shipmates!

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Bosun’s Chair

By Chelsea McBroom

4:30pm, or 1630 as we say aboard the Picton Castle, and the crew was doing a seamanship workshop, this time it was all about the bosun’s chair and how to go aloft in it. The Captain explained that the bosun chair, which is essentially strong heavy rope looped through a large flat piece of wood like a swing, is spliced and crossed under the seat so if the wood broke, the person sitting in it would still be cradled.

First the Captain bent on on a long piece of new manila or poly-dacron that went up in the rig like a halyard, called a gantline, (never nylon, too springy, nor old rope) to the block before raising it up, then doing a double sheet bend with the bitter end to attach the line to the chair. He then climbed into the chair and hoisted himself up by pulling on the line while wrapping his arm around the end attached. He does this to show it can be done but told us that this is NOT how to go higher. Better to hoist the chair aloft, make it fast before getting in to it. Holding the two lines together caused friction to hold him in place, the Captain pulled the length of rope through the bridge of the chair, passing the loop over his head, around the seat and his legs and bringing it up to the highest point of the chair, near to where he held the rope. Captain says this hitch that is created is impossible to slip from. Using this knot, it will keep the chair in place without holding it by hand, and all one has to do is feed it slack and the chair will lower.

After the Captain’s demonstration the crew cheered on each shipmate as they successfully tried it themselves while Lian kept us all from swinging around too or into people’s faces. Then he discussed the alternative method and how to lower someone in a bosun chair by handling the gantline from deck. If you are lowering someone in a chair, that is your only job – no multi-tasking. And all directions are repeated and confirmed by more repetition. The person doing the lowering uses a special round turn so the line cannot slip off the pin and he or she never leaves the line and person aloft in the chair unattended.

bosun s chair workshop

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Sailing For Pitcairn Island

0630 – The day comes in cool and mostly cloudy in the Picton Castle. A small moon and a few stars poked through the clouds earlier on. Winds are southeasterly at about force 4-5 and seas are small with scattered whitecaps. The ship is braced up on the starboard tack with the yards off the backstays. Steering is easy at NE and she is making a nice 6 knots. All sail is set to the royals.

The main t’gallant staysail got sent up and bent on yesterday and with a beam wind that sail pulls just fine. Next we will re-bend the flying jib and gaff topsail as we sail away from the higher latitudes.

We are having a good chance along here on a passage that has been all in all, outstanding in all respects thus far. We have sailed about 2,600 miles from the Bay of Islands and have about 800 to go to landfall Pitcairn. Finn and the 4×8 watch has trimmed the yards by hauling the braces, and sweated up the halyards, sheeted the headsails some to renew the nip (meaning shift the point of bearing by hauling or slacking a small amount so the lines get even wear), coiled down and are giving the deck a good scrub. Chelsea at the wheel has her foul weather gear on for warmth, but it is actually not cold according to the thermometer. And others, especially the Doc, turns to every watch with full-on foul weather gear, but barefoot. How cold can it be?

Donald has a big pot of coffee on the stove and is making biscuits for breakfast in his galley. Workshops in Rules of the Road by John Beebe-Center, use and abuse of Bosun Chairs by Dirk; knots, splices, rigs and rigging when the weather permits. Things are going pretty well out here at 38 south and 136 west.

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Stowing the Sole

By Chelsea McBroom

We finally had a sunny day anchored in New Zealand to organize the sole – not that we were looking forward to it, people were afraid of what lurked down below – but it needed to be done and the crew finally had the opportunity. The ‘sole’ is the deck or floor in the main salon. Under the sole is a vast and excellent storage area about 35 feet long and almost 24 feet wide about 3 to 4 feet deep. We keep lots of stuff here for the ship.

This whole job begins with a sunny day or two in a row, as once you start, you must carry on. It began with removing everything stowed under the sole onto and around the hatch on the main deck or to the quarterdeck. A chain of people was created from the sole beneath the salon and up the mahogany ladder, through the companionway, to the cargo hatch where everything was laid out: shackles and lizards of all sizes; spools of wire, thread, coils of manila rope, hemp and twine; sails, lots of spare sails, sometimes more than one to replace any the ship is currently using, all flaked and wrapped in rope; Picton Castle tools, t-shirts and memorabilia; previous crew members’ belongings stored in boxes or bags (the names on them giving us lovely flashbacks); totes full of soap, books and fabric; bags full of toilet paper or blankets; crutches; rolls of canvas; foul weather gear; and large pieces of wax. The list goes on!

People were broken up into teams to be responsible for sections. All was sorted, like with like, and after, the crew counted each and the Mate wrote down the inventory. Blankets were shaken out and refolded, the useless and broken were tossed, broken boxes and bags were repaired or replaced, then wiped clean. The sole is the Mary Poppins of storage spaces and we were all amazed and how much came out. A handful of crew went back down to see what few have seen – an empty sole, swept and dusted. We managed to get everything back into the sole just in time for more unpredictable weather, but with a more organized placement of things, giving us easy access to what we often need like palms, sails, rope and most importantly toilet paper (we know exactly where it is and just how much of it!). This was good to do, all can see what we have and where it is without puzzling out a list or drawing. We made some lists and drawings anyway.

all the contents of the sole up on deck

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Antigravity in the Southern Ocean

By Chelsea McBroom

I’ve been told I have terrible sea legs aboard the Picton Castle, but I’ve gotten used to never standing still for a moment, always stumbling around from pin rail to hand rail. I probably did a better job of walking when Pania (one of the lead seamen) and I pretended to be penguins and then robots hobbling around on deck, trying to step up from the well to the main deck over and over. Today was grey and especially rocky with a wind force of 5 on the Beaufort scale, heading in a northeasterly direction, the swells rolling parallel to the ship and I was glad for the man ropes we had put up along the quarterdeck and main deck.

Maybe I’ve been taking gravity for granted. I can imagine what it’s like for those who train for NASA when I go into the Brocave, which is farthest forward, or below to open the chain locker during a ship check and find
myself floating inside of it. Even with the man ropes lashed about, every task becomes more complicated with one hand holding onto the ship: carrying pots from dinner in the salon to the scullery much farther aft; taping up previous logs for the crew to read with a roll of tape under my arm and the pages flapping; going aloft to the highest yard, the royal, on a narrow shroud, climbing as we roll side to side; steadily coiling a line on deck;
or having to remember to pour water out of a pitcher lengthwise as opposed to athwart ships.

Today, when it came time to set up for dinner, we had to make a chain from the galley to the salon (a fairly short distance but down stairs) to carry the pots full of steaming hot food. It was Sunday so stand-in crew had cooked supper, this time Beamy and Meg who did a roast with potatoes, peas n’ carrots, onions n’ squash, and Yorkshire pudding (a favourite). The best part of it was the gravy which had to be taken down one step at a time and still sloshed around in its pot on the salon table with gripped padding beneath it. Some of our watch was able to hang below while we ate but the helmsman and the lead seaman Finn ate while they kept watch of the ship on the quarterdeck , causing peas and carrot to fly and scatter all over the deck.

I suppose this isn’t something one gets used to but I shouldn’t be surprised. It certainly acts as a reminder should we forget to look outboard: “In case you’ve forgotten, you’re sailing on a ship!”

watch gathers on the quarterdeck in foul weather gear

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The Roaring 40s in our Barque

By Chelsea McBroom

“This is what sailors or ships hoped for in winds in this part of the ocean” Captain says, standing before his 4-8 watch on the quarter deck of the Picton Castle. “This is the roaring 40’s, they’d sail like this for days. We have and we will.”

We had a small gale here at 43 degrees south latitude in the Great Southern Ocean where seas circle the earth without being blocked by land anywhere; it was a sunny day with clear skies but a forest of waves like from an oil painting and the swells, all white-capped and foaming were rolling us along in fine form, tops of them giving some spray over the rail, sometimes a dollop. Steve, the Doc (Peter), Nolan, Maria, Gustav and I were still waking up. My watch usually begins when a strange dream is disrupted by a hushed but insistent “Chelsea! Chelsea! Chelsea!” until I finally realize where I am, grunt a response, and turn on my bunk lamp to make sure I don’t fall back asleep. “It’s 3:30am, this is your wake-up call,” whispers Denise (from Denmark and the 12-4 watch), “It’s cold and windy.” Then it all sinks in what unfortunate steps I have to take next: putting layer after layer of clothes on, including my foul weather gear and boots for good measure (it always seems to rain on our watch), forcing myself up and out of the salon and onto the hatch for muster at 3:50. Our lead seaman Finn will then send someone to take helm and another to replace the lookout on the foc’sle head until the sun comes up an hour later.

The last watch is kept up to brace the yards and once we finish the off watch is given “watch below” and off they go to bed. We coil down the lines and I scramble to save the rope from being washed out the freeing port. Meg, the lead seaman from the previous watch came up to me and gasped, “The moon is setting and the sun is rising at the same time! Look!” And there it was – although I thought it was the sun at first, it couldn’t be, as the sun rises in the east. It was indeed the moon; full and glowing with an eerie shade of cloud. The sun was nearly opposite with a much broader reach of shattering light, cutting through the darkness.

And so it goes, as the sun has risen, chore can be started (deck scrub, wash down) and sails adjusted. The mainsail was clewed up by the last watch and hanging, not yet stowed. “Aloft and stow!” the Captain calls, so Maria, Doc, Nolan, Finn and I hop onto the main shrouds from the quarterdeck to get to the mainsail, teetering and climbing aloft as some spray spatters across the main deck drenching the hatch, just missing us. The sail was soaking wet from the previous day of rain and heavy as we folded, punched, molded it
into flakes and stowed it into its sun patch.

In the last hour of watch I go to replace Gustav. “I’m here to relieve you from the helm. What is your course?” “Alright, we’re going north, and it’s not steady at all,” he says half laughing. “I might have four turns on, I may have two, I really don’t know.” “Alright, going north, thank you.” I wind the wheel to the right; slowly but surely as each turn sticks, feeling the current move against me. When the needle floats towards our heading I take the turns off swiftly and the ship becomes steady but only for a moment as the hood of my jacket begins to flap and reverberate in my ears. I look up and over our port side to see a three or four metre swell coming under us and look down again at the compass as we fall to the west and into a swell, tossing us from side to side. I see the crew stumble a bit on deck, hold on and brace themselves on pin rails and manropes as the ship heaves. The wind and seas are pretty strong. Just as I managed to get her back (hauling many turns to the right and spinning them off) I see the Captain come out of the charthouse and onto the deck. He takes his time walking up to me and asks, “How’s she steering?”

With my look of strain and sour response the Captain calls to take in the Main Upper topsail to improve it. Pania, the lead seaman from the next watch replaces me at helm so our crew and hers can race to haul the buntlines, ease the halyard and pull on the downhauls, before ending my watch aloft with a bigger perspective. But we are going good.

looking forward on the port side from the bridge

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A Day Aboard In The Life of Beamy

By apprentice Amy (aka Beamy) from Bristol, UK

Hmmm… when does my day begin? I am on the 12 to 4 watch. Night and day. I think I’ll start when I have breakfast. I usually wake up 10 minutes early, before midnight, so I can fuel up for my night watch. I can be found on the aloha deck eating cereal and drinking tea at 11:30pm ready to muster with my watch mates at 11:50pm.

Just as well I ate – first job is to take in the fore t’gallant sail. Four of us led by Pania wait in the rig while our shipmates ease out the halyard and clew up the sail and steady the braces. We file out on the yard in the near darkness to put a quick sea stow on the sail. As soon as I am back on deck I’m sent up the mainmast as eight of us work quickly to stow the main sail.

Once the sails are stowed the 8-12 watch is sent below and the seven of us on my watch can enjoy the peace and quiet. We like to do some late night ‘shopping’, gathering peanut butter, crackers and cereal from the hold to restock the scullery shelves!

My final hour is spent on the foredeck on lookout and even though it’s before four a.m. there is a hint of dawn in the sky. I haven’t seen a ship since we left New Zealand, but we also need to look out for lightening. This hour is dragging as I think of family back home and make endless plans to return to sea. Just before four a.m. Steve (from Boston) appears to relieve me, grinning with a story even though he’s just woken up. “Watch below!” It’s easy to sleep now.

A friendly wake-up call at 11:15am from Teis (from Denmark where he had recently been a cadet in the full-rigger Danmark) with news of warmth and sunshine. My sleepy watch wakes up with an early lunch before taking charge of the deck. Lian (from Toronto) has the wheel. Easy steering today with the sails balanced and well. The rest of us bring out more fish and rice creatively prepared by Donald for the rest of the crew. An hour in the scullery and everything is clean and tidy.

Meg, our AB, dishes out ships work. I’m working aloft with Lily putting another coat of primer on the rust spots on the main upper topsail yard. We dangle our legs sitting on the footropes with our paint in tins strapped to our harnesses. After a stint on the helm I have to gather wind and weather information to enter in the ship’s log, then do a ships check making sure things are stowed, nothing’s on fire and no taps are leaking.

Last hour is time to clean up and make coffee for the next watch. Four o’clock pm and we’ve handed over to the four to eight watch and we have hot chocolate with the watch to unwind.

An unofficial workshop today as we gather on the quarterdeck with ditty bags in various stages. I finish splicing and serving mine – all it needs is a wooden base however the wood is buried under our wooden cargo so it will have to wait until after Pitcairn. Chelsea (from Canada) and Teis want some help serving their grommets and between us we figure out how the Captain showed us yesterday.

‘Ding’ goes the dinner bell at 6pm. It’s not fish! Excitement over chicken and potatoes. After dinner is cleared away the salon becomes a games room; various games of cards and I can hear a movie playing in the brocave. Once Steve finishes watch at eight we continue our backgammon tournament before it’s time for bed and a nap before night watch.

Mark, John and Beamy

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A Day In The Life Of Hannah At Sea

By trainee Hannah, age 19, from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

After spending almost two months sailing around the Hauraki Golf and Bay of Islands New Zealand in our Picton Castle, I was very excited (and a little nervous) to get back sailing deep sea. My sea legs had disappeared and I had forgotten what it was like to walk up and down the main deck with water sloshing my toes.

I was put in the 8-12 watch which was nice because it’s somewhat regular sleep hours. In the morning after doing our daily domestics routine (cleaning the ship below decks), we find ship work that needs to be done, which isn’t difficult as there is always something to do. Every so often we are interrupted with tuna on the fishing outriggers astern. Whoever sees the fish first will flick the light to the engine room on and off to let Alex (our engineer who is also Chief Fishing Officer) know. Even when I’m asleep down in the batcave (the original after-peak bunk room) I may wake up to the sound of fish flopping around on the aloha deck above. We even had a couple that were a good 20 pounds!

Throughout the afternoon is a good time to nap, do laundry, or work on personal projects. I usually end up sleeping until around 4:15pm when I am woken up for a daily workshop. Yesterday we worked on grommets for our ditty bags and the day before, splices, knots and other shippy things. At 6:00pm we all gather on the aloha deck and eat supper together. Afterwards, we play cards in the salon or watch a movie. By the time 8:00pm rolls around, the 8-12 watch is back to work, cleaning the scullery and the galley. Last night, the ship was rolling around so much that when I was in the scullery bleaching the floors, I was sliding from one side to the other, much like a skating rink, in spite of the non-skid mats.

Night watch is very enjoyable. Sometimes I lose count of how many shooting stars I see in one night. Looking up at the sails swaying in front of the stars in the sky is even more beautiful and romantic than it sounds. A couple nights ago, myself, Amy and Pania were sitting on the quarterdeck and the whole sky lit up as if there was lightning nearby, but it was actually a meteor falling through the sky. All mesmerized, the meteor brought up a conversation about space, science, life and death, which continued on throughout the night.

It is getting colder and colder every day, and as the temperature drops, the more excited I am to arrive on Pitcairn Island. My watch leader Pania is from Pitcairn and she tells us stories about what it was like to grow up there. She is really good at building up the anticipation. Only 14 (maybe) more days to go! Although, I am not in any rush to get back to land.

I am perfectly content at sea.

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Southern Ocean

By Chelsea McBroom

January 8th, 2014

It feels like the ship is trapped in time and space; waking up for each watch and looking around at the same endless (but incredible) view of sea and sky, you’d never know we were a third of the way to Pitcairn. Long rolling seas, sometimes grey with a dash of white foam icing its peak, sometimes sparkling blue. Some days overcast with a low ragged scud of cloud, other days a shiny dome of baby blue so far away it hits you.

The 12-4 watch noticed a pin loose on the spanker gaff so immediate action was taken. It was the pin for the sheave of the peak outhaul at the end of the gaff. It had worked its way out of its keeper plate. The lead seamen were rounded up and crew called on to help to lower the peak of the gaff down. While the pin was being re-secured, the gaff was lashed to the spanker boom with some chafe gear. When all was fixed the gaff was raised up again. All very smooth.

The Captain decided the inner jib needed to be replaced so the crew (Meg, Lily and Steve) dove into the aft sole to haul up a new one. When the proper size and shape was found, it was bent on by Finn, Gustav and Chelsea and hoisted and set just around the time the sun had set.

Sundays are even more interesting now since we are seeing newer faces in the galley on Donald’s day off. It was a rainy Sunday and people took comfort in the eggs and bacon for breakfast, the fish and rice for lunch (we keep catching more skip-jacks!), and the roast chicken and mashed potatoes for dinner, all cooked by someone new.

The swells have grown and sometimes reach 5 metres in height, a good reminder that we are in fact sailing on a ship. Yet still folks stack dishes too high and they go flying during wash-up, silly. Anything not properly lashed will make itself known and people are having trouble sleeping. Hopefully this will either pass or people will get used to it once again (the Captain say it will pass, all things do).

When watch is over, crew have been found huddled together in the Brocave, (aka the forepeak) to watch movies such as Star Wars or the Lord of the Rings series or gathered in the salon to learn or teach one another a card game. 500 has been popular.

Sailing in the foggy sun in the Southern Ocean

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