Captain's Log

Archive for January, 2014

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8 Days and 900 Nautical Miles From Cape Brett, New Zealand

By Chelsea McBroom

January 6th, 2014

Since the first day of the New Year in the Picton Castle, we have caught four very large fish. We have spoiled ourselves with ceviche (aka poisson cru, raw tuna with coconut milk), baked and fried fish that Donald has magically created.

The crew that were with us from Sydney to Auckland seem to be expecting the worst in terms of weather so they’re pleasantly surprised at how nice it is out here. Fine breezes, small seas. Bright blue sky now and then, dusted with sheer cloud and the usual endless body of water beneath us. The ship has been able to set all the square sails.

The past few days we have all gathered together at 1630 for workshops. Our first workshop was part of our abandon ship training. We sat around the hatch preparing emergency bags should we ever need to abandon ship. The Captain told us that in addition the food packs in the life rafts, should we need to abandon ship, it’s better to have real food along with us. So we cleared the shelves of a grocery store in Opua and Pahia of peanut butter, jam and biscuits to add to the bags of sharpened and tape-covered knives, fishing gear, rope, a block of wood for cutting fish, and small bags of water (among a lot of other things). We had three orientation and training sessions in all on this subject so far.

During another workshop the crew split into their watches to work on knots, whippings and eye splices, bringing the newer trainees up to speed and refreshing some of the older gang. Today the crew mustered for a long splice demonstration before attempting the easy and salty task themselves. We are lucky to have many experienced crew with so much to teach one another: tricks like remembering how to start the first three tucks of an eye splice or how to literally throw together a figure eight knot.

Outside of workshop hours the crew is prepping and maintaining the ship by tarring the shrouds (and anything else that will improve being covered in it such as the crew), chipping the main upper tops’l yard and coating it to prevent rust, and painting the storm covers for the chart house windows. Outside of all the activity, now and then a member of the crew will look up from the sail they are stowing aloft or out from the ship’s position on the horizon at the helm and their focused expression will change as they remember where they are and how amazing this all is.

crew examine emergency gear during an abandon ship drill

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Running Down The Easting

“Running down your easting” is an old sailing ship mariners’ phrase used to describe the path of a wind ship, usually in the Great Southern Ocean, when making the long passage from either the Cape of Good Hope in the Southern Indian Ocean east to Australia, or from Australia, New Zealand or really anywhere in the Pacific when bound for Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America. When a ship gets down into this area, it becomes all one ocean, the Great Southern Ocean. This means simply that once a ship gets to a certain higher latitude where fair westerly winds are to be found, usually in the 40s south latitude, she will simply run with the winds and seas for days on end just making miles and miles to the east. Just get to the east, no longer steering for a point but just making “easting”.

This is the sailing we are doing in Picton Castle right now and for the next week or so here at 41-35S latitude almost due south of Rarotonga, 1,250 miles due south. For the last few days we have had a large southwesterly swell, four and five meters and sometimes a bit more, from a low pressure system, the centre of which was passing some 700 miles to the south of the ship. These large swells have been laying down since yesterday. It is the riding the north side of these lows that gave the wind ships their passage to the Horn, and is what is giving us our fine passage just now.

We are now also some 1,200 miles from our point of departure, Cape Brett, bearing about 282 from the ship. This puts us about one-third of the way or a bit more, towards Pitcairn Island. We have ten tons of supplies to deliver to Pitcairn.

We are having an excellent passage thus far. Very little motoring, fair winds, fresh at times but we are all for fresh fair winds to get across this broad ocean. Around the ship swoop and fly charcoal winged sea birds with wingspans of about a yard. Have not seen any albatross yet. It’s warm enough, but a good distance from tropical. Well, we will have tropical temps soon enough once we get on the road to the Marquesas after Pitcairn – what we have is quite comfortable.

This is a big ocean indeed. New Zealand looks so small on the chart. But I think that this only due to being so near Australia. If you could plop the islands of New Zealand in the North Atlantic they would stretch from Nova Scotia all the way to Florida.

And far to our northwest near Fiji, a cyclone has formed. It should bat about for a few days, give some trouble to Tonga and Samoa, give the harbour in Avatiu, Rarotonga some nasty surge and then die out about 1500 miles from us. It gives us little concern. We are more interested in the lows to our south. That’s where our wind comes from down here at almost 42 degrees south.

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Christmas in the Picton Castle

By Chelsea McBroom

Anchored at small Roberton Island in the Bay of Islands, where Endeavour anchored and Cook went ashore, our Secret Picton Castle Christmas Committee set up a schedule in advance for Christmas Day.

The crew was able to sleep in for a couple hours before brunch. The majority of the crew had stayed up late the night before to watch a screening of the movie “Elf” on the hatch. Brunch was a feast of eggs, bacon (which seems to be a favourite on the ship, so much so that people who don’t have to get up yet want to be woken up for it), fresh bread and fruit.

Amy, Hannah, Beamy (Amy B) and Denise all took turns in the galley baking their own version of holiday cookies as Charlie Brown or Ella Fitzgerald Christmas music played. The Monomoy was launched and prepared for sailing by stepping the mast and rigging the boom and bending on the mainsail and headsail. The weather was warmer than some North American (better than -40!) or European crew were used to and cooler than what the New Zealanders or Australians experienced during the holidays.

Though it would rain off and on during the day, the crew found ways to occupy themselves – working on ditty bags or reading – and when the rain stopped the Mate lead a team (Pania, Peter, Nils, Chelsea, Gustav, Teis, Mark and Alex) sailing on the monomoy around the nearby island and over to our friend Jim’s where the boat was docked and the group sat along the beach by the bird sanctuary.

When the Monomoy group returned the Christmas Committee had set up a monkey piñata over the hatch. The crew gathered around to watch and cheer while people took turns in pairs being blind folded, each wrapping their hands around the same stick before they were spun around and allowed to swing. Everyone who tried made a hit, but it wasn’t until Meg and Lian stepped up to the hatch (and given a much bigger tool of destruction) that it finally broke open – a candy and confetti explosion. This was quickly cleared up before the crew put on their nicest clean clothes for dinner.

The salon in the tween decks was ringed around with Chrsitmas lights and the tables groaning with amzing dishes. We had Christmas music playing endlessly. One couldn’t miss the small decorated tree atop the aft salon table floating above a hill of wrapped gifts on the way down to eat. The crew of 24 cozily sat around two tables to enjoy stuffed potato skins, roast chicken and bacon wrapped green beans.

When plates were cleared it was time to open gifts. By tradition, the two youngest crew, Lian and Vai, distributed all the gifts, grinning with excitement. There were unexpected surprises for everyone – all found themselves comforted by the friends and ship family around them. You could say it was the best Christmas away from home that a person could have!

Check out the video of the crew opening their Christmas presents in the cozy main salon here.

Christmas 2013 dinner and tree in the main salon

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New Year’s Eve at Sea

By Chelsea McBroom

January 1, 2014

In our ongoing agenda in the Picton Castle to train crew up in safety thinking and emergency duties in a real and hands-on way, the Captain figured we could use some practice in flares. As it happened, we had a good supply of just out of date flares to try out.

Yesterday we brought out expired flame/rocket distress signals for the crew to experience what it was like to use them in an emergency, considering that one might be in a plastic/rubber (fire sensitive) life raft if ever having to use one. Everyone took turns firing them off the quarterdeck (after a security drill warning on the radio, of course, to let anyone in the area know there was no emergency) and out into the open water. We made sure to save some flares for our midnight New Year’s celebration that evening.

The 8-12 watch made a few preparations – they put up some strings of small Christmas lights and paper lanterns over the scuttle doors, made punch and brought out chips and crackers. Members of the other watches, if requested, were woken up twenty minutes to the hour to witness their efforts. It was a dark night; the sky was clear with a sprinkle of stars.

The flame torches, although hard to see from amidships when lighting off the quarterdeck, were dropped into the water and could be seen burning or would glow as they sank. The rockets were ignited two or three at a time by volunteers and when they descended made everything, including the sails, glow a rusty orange.

When the countdown to midnight was completed, hugs, sometimes two at a time, and words of thanks or appreciation were shared around the hatch. Soon after, the crew was ready again for sleep in their bunks, satisfied with the night’s events and excited about what the New Year of 2014 would bring.

By curious coincidence we are also about to cross the International Date Line. This will take us back into 2013 for a few hours and then a new New Year’s eve. Maybe one New Years is a enough and we will ignore the second one.

Beamy with orange smoke

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Sailing from New Zealand, Bound for Pitcairn Island

By Chelsea McBroom

December 31, 2013

It was an ugly couple of days of rain as we waited out some weather before sailing away from New Zealand. We were anchored in Opua in the Bay of Islands in a small landlocked basin when the crew was woken up at 0200 with a call from Amy for all hands. The crew leapt from their bunks, throwing on their still wet foul weather gear and straight to the foc’sle head. The wind had picked up as the rain continued and we needed to adjust our placement in relation to the other boats anchored in the area. It was time to heave up and drop the port anchor. It took time to heave up but it kept the crew warm.

Muster was called and the crew stood on top of the hatch as they were thanked for their late night efforts. Just then Hannah realized it was a few hours into Amy’s birthday, so the crew stood on the hatch in the dark, in the pouring rain, and sang Amy a Happy Birthday. What a way to begin the eventful day!

The crew went back to sleep and awoke to parting clouds and sunshine and steam coming off the decks. It was the day we hoped to begin our voyage to Pitcairn Island. New Zealand Customs & Immigration was expected to come aboard to clear us out at 0900. After the pancakes Meg made for breakfast (since it was Donald’s day off), Pania finished up a few of the ratlines, lashings were tightened or made and a party was sent to dispose of the garbage ashore as the Purser prepared for the meeting at 0900.

The friendly Customs official joined us when expected and, even though our process into New Zealand was a hurdle (we miss ship’s cat George! And Tammy and Dawson!), the leaving process was a simple and painless one. But he did need to make sure that everybody on the crew list was actually aboard the ship when she sailed. Seems that they are worried about interlopers. The Captain said that he had never seen that done before when clearing out of a country. We had an hour before we were expected to leave but even after the possibly exhausting and eventful previous night, the feeling on the ship was an awake and anxious one and everyone seemed excited to move on.

The anchor was heaved up again, this time with the addition of the capstan to hoist the port anchor to the cathead and then the rail, and the ship motored out of the bay against warm northerly winds. The call was made to go aloft and loose sail, mainly to dry them from the soaking the night before. It wasn’t until the ship passed by Russell that grins and sighs of relief could be seen and heard – we all felt then that after all the preparation, stowing, lashing, drills and safety exercises that we were really were going to sail from New Zealand.

Everyone in the crew has fond memories of each port and anchorage experienced in New Zealand – taking passengers out for a day sail during Tall Ships, loading ten tons of goods in the hold for Pitcairn, rowing the monomoy into port for the nearest town’s best fish and chips, or sailing it to get a closer look at a ship wreck on an island and go swimming, late night skiff runs in the rain to pick up anticipated new and previous crew (a treasured event), what seemed like our first gathering with everyone in one place on Christmas Day at a small island away from everything….

The topsails and fore and aft sails were set. Then, until late afternoon, once again, the focus was on safety. The first event was an unexpected fire drill taking place in the galley – those taking a break snapped up on alert, grabbing the nearest fire extinguishers to take to the area of the fire. All broke into their designated areas and trained roles – bringing out the remainder of extinguishers, the hoses and water pump, closing water tight doors and collecting a head count. We mustered to discuss possible improvements and to be shown an example of how to use a fire blanket which is easy to access (because, as John says, most fires are detected by a human and not an alarm).

Then Lian was used as an example for man overboard (on the hatch, we didn’t toss him overboard) as we tested out our wooden bearer or stretcher. Seven pairs of hands carefully placed each of his limbs to be strapped in and lifted the bearer. Muster was called on the quarterdeck to share in the excitement on our first day of our journey to Pitcairn as the watches were split into three and just like that, our two months time in New Zealand was behind us.

That night all the sails were set. It was a fairly calm evening with the ship going 3.5 knots. Light clouds passed under the stars, the ship aiming straight for the crescent moon. The lines were still drying from the days of rain before so much slack had to be taken out of them throughout the night. Soon a bluish hue could be seen on the horizon as the sun began to rise. Nolan and Finn at the helm saw a whale lurch out of the water on starboard side, heading back from where we came. Donald was awake preparing the galley, lighting the stove and oven for muffins, eggs and oatmeal. Pania declared, in memory of our recent, all night sailing to Opua, “You know what the best thing is about all this? It’s not just for one night!”

We chose a great day to leave, we haven’t yet experienced rain (knock on wood), and the sky is incredibly blue during the day. She’s a beautiful ship when all sails are set! We are getting up to about 3 or 4 knots. Perhaps we’ll be begging to see land at some point but not currently – our keen senses of the wind and weather, the sights of the sea, the albatross, the cargo ships in the distance, the direction of swell, as well as the company of our crew are all we need to keep us happy.

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Sailing from Auckland

By Chelsea McBroom

December 23, 2013

After getting aboard ten tons of lumber and building supplies for Pitcairn Island, and getting fueled up 9,500 litres more, making a total of 19,000 litres of diesel aboard in our tanks, it came time to sail Picton Castle away from the big city of Auckland. Sailing from our Auckland wharf, Nolan took the helm and steered us North towards the Bay of Islands. Not much wind but we set the square sails through the calm seas, the crew getting in some good practice for the next long passage coming up.

Teis, Lily, Nolan, Lian, Chelsea and Finn bent on the outer jib, spending the sunny afternoon learning to tie on the hanks and sitting out on the jibboom rigging as we sailed – a great view to see the few light rain clouds the ship sailed in and out of. Amy and Hannah painted the capstan and the windlass bars while Gustav tarred the foremast shrouds. After we took in sail the crew went aloft to stow sail, Vai, our little spitfire from Tonga, going aloft for the first time on a real job. She had been training up just for this moment. Just before we anchored at Kawau Island (a pleasant and familiar view) muster was called to ask if anyone wanted a swim call and even in the cooler weather, the majority of hands shot up with excitement.

The skiff was lowered and as Pania and Dirk took watch the crew jumped over the port side, sometimes even from the surprisingly high jibboom. Enthusiastic cheers were given as each person hesitated as he/she stood on the rail and prepared to jump into the water. When all who swam had a fresh water rinse, dinner was set up around the hatch and the day ended with another of Donald’s appreciated ‘comfort food’ meals and a little of Beamy’s (aka Amy B.) rice pudding with jam.

The sun rose the following day with the sound of the now familiar New Zealand birds singing and calling, announcing another good day ahead as we slowly made our way towards Russell. It was decided that we sail through the night to get us to Russell faster in order to begin completing our tasks for the upcoming journey and watches were split into three. The watches were of 6 or 7 people each with a strong hard working crew. The new watches did well with the new routine, and it was good practice. We had good winds until just before our destination, when we took in sail coming around Cape Brett at sunrise. We passed some beautiful areas: the lighthouse on the pier, the island shaped like a foot, another shaped like a face.

The majority of the crew woke up to the sound of the anchor dropping and the familiar view of Russell. We had actually been warned the anchor was going down. Here we are again! The chocolate shop on the main street always welcomes us as the crew goes in for a chilli hot chocolate and some wifi and the owners add a little sample of fresh chocolate on the side. But outside of the off-watch making their trips ashore for the evenings, for this visit it was time to hunker down and work on our list of things to do so we can get under way.

The robands have been replaced on the square sails and each sail’s head stretched. The shrouds are being tarred. Provisions are ordered. We are finally ready to hoist and put back our beautiful royal yards that have made their home on the well deck for the past few weeks or so as we scraped, sanded, varnished and repainted them.

Even more importantly, the crew has been baking cookies for the evening’s Christmas Party! We have decided to go big or go home, with the cheesiest of cheesy. Popcorn! Snowflakes! The most Christmas music one can bear! Although the sky is cloudy and grey, the Top Secret Christmas Committee is ready for anything and we can be sure to have a well celebrated holiday.

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