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At Sea Again

By Kate “Bob” Addison

Monday September 8th, 2014

Picton Castle has been at sea for four days now, four days into the month-or-so passage from Vanuatu bound for Bali, Indonesia. We sailed off the dock from Luganville, Vanuatu’s second largest city on the island of Santo last Thursday after provisioning, fuelling up and clearing out. We drew quite a crowd while we were alongside the main dock getting fuel, and while I was clearing out even the immigration officials poked their head out of their office to see the real live version of the ship on the business cards. They had a globe in the office so I traced our voyage ’round the world for them to see: Lunenburg to Lunenburg by way of Vanuatu. They seemed suitably impressed.

These last few days at sea have been a blur as we get back into the swing of standing watches, day and night, after so long in the remarkable and remote islands. It’s hard to describe the sleepiness that comes the first few days out, but I think it comes from everything moving constantly day and night, as well as the change in sleep schedule – for me anyway, starting work at 4am requires a pretty hefty coffee intake the first few days out! Picton Castle is as sea kindly as any ship I’ve ever sailed and her movement is easy as she rides over this wide, rolling Pacific swell, but still, everything really is moving all the time, and it takes time to get used to bracing yourself in your bunk to sleep, and using all sorts of muscles just to sit down.

The wind and weather have been pretty much what you’d expect of a classic trade wind passage. No complaints at all in that department. Winds have been pretty steady between 15 and 25 knots all week, coming out of the southeast or thereabouts. We had glorious sunshine the first couple of days out, though it was grey and soggy last night and this morning. But forecast to clear up later today. And if the greyness fooled you for a minute into thinking you were in the North Sea or the English Channel, just walking across the main decks would soon put you right: the water sloshing across the main decks and out through the freeing ports is warm and quite pleasant on the toes. Jackets sometimes, but not much need for sea boots here in the South Seas!

The wind is on the port quarter at the moment, and this broad reach is just about the perfect point of sail for our lovely square rigger. Why would anyone want to go upwind anyway? The steering is balanced and easy, with just a half turn or so on the wheel when it gusts up to keep her on course. As it is blowing pretty fresh we have topsails and the fore set now, plus staysails and a jib for balance, but we’re still making five and a half knots to six and the ride is smooth enough as we surf down the waves, smooth decks rising up to meet bare feet as we head ever westwards.

On Saturday I was called forward from the quarterdeck office by the shout of dolphins under the bowsprit. There was a gang of sailors gathered on the foc’sle head watching the pod of maybe twelve dolphins diving and breaching, passing under and over each other and giving every impression of having a lovely time playing in the bow wave. Christian, Luke and I went out into the head rig with cameras to get a closer view, though the photos hardly do justice to the dolphin-magic. Looking back at the ship was a fine view too, her sails full and drawing beautifully, white water foaming around the bow as she cut through the ocean, storming along under t’gallants, alone under the sky on the open ocean. We have royals bent now, and laying aloft to furl the fore royal for the night is the most magnificent view: a tiny ship far below, and then just an infinity of open sea and cloud dappled sky, all softened and pink-tinged in the evening light.

We’ve had three seabirds keeping us company more or less constantly for the last couple of days – three boobies balanced on the royal yards like overgrown canaries on their perch. They take flight now and then, circling around, their wings hardly moving as they ride the currents and thermal lifts in the air, eyes gleaming, watching intently for fish. They dive occasionally before making the landing back on the yard – looks a bit like landing a helicopter on an air craft carrier, precision manoeuvring! The kittens are quite taken with these visitors: they sit on the quarterdeck skylight or sailmakers bench, keenly following the birds with eyes and ears, the rest of the kitty perfectly still, elegantly arranged like a sphinx or cat statue, instinctively absorbing the movement of the ship. There have been plenty of flying fish attracting feline attention too, though none have landed on deck so far, and no fish on the lines so far this passage.

Yesterday was both Vai and Christian’s birthdays, so Alex and Nicole made an epic chocolate brownie cake to celebrate, with chocolate mousse filling and topping, each layer about an inch thick. I don’t know why we have so many birthdays in August and September the voyage, but nobody’s complaining about all of these wonderful cakes!

Amy & Nicole
Amy and Nicole watch dolphins from the foc’sle head

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